A student stands in front of three judges in Moot Court.

Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition

About the 2022–2023 Competition

This year marks the 98th anniversary of the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court, founded at Columbia Law School in 1925 by the Story Inn, a chapter of the legal fraternity Phi Delta Phi. The competition is named in honor of Harlan Fiske Stone 1898, who was a member of the Story Inn while a student at the Law School. Stone was named dean of Columbia Law School in 1910. He served in that capacity until 1924, when President Calvin Coolidge appointed him attorney general of the United States. He was named to the Supreme Court of the United States the following year and was elevated to chief justice in 1941.

This year’s case centered on issues of federal criminal jurisdiction under the Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1153, and interpretation of the “career offender” designation under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for controlled substance offenses. The final round of the competition was held on Monday, March 27, 2023, with oral arguments delivered by four outstanding student finalists: Abigail K. Flanigan ’23Alex Herkert ’23Julia Konstantinovsky ’24, and Conor J. Regan ’23. Herkert was awarded the Lawrence S. Greenbaum Prize for best oral presentation, and Flanigan won best final round brief. 

For more information about this year’s competition, please visit the Students Directors’ Blog.

1. What is the proper standard for determining whether a criminal defendant should be considered an “Indian” under the Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1153, and did the district court’s jury instructions adequately reflect that proper standard?

2. Do Appellant’s prior felony convictions in South Dakota for distribution or possession with intent to distribute marijuana qualify as “controlled substance offenses” such that he may be designated a “career offender” for the purposes of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

On March 24, 2021, Appellant William Joseph Wood was arrested for assaulting a visitor to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Reservation. Mr. Wood was ultimately tried before a jury in the Eastern District of Michigan and was convicted of one count of assault with a dangerous weapon. At sentencing, Mr. Wood was designated a “career offender” under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines based upon two prior felony marijuana convictions in South Dakota state court. As a result, Mr. Wood was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison. On appeal, Mr. Wood is challenging certain jury instructions given by the district court and his sentence.

Federal jurisdiction over Mr. Wood’s assault charge turns on whether Mr. Wood should be considered an “Indian” for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act. The Major Crimes Act grants federal jurisdiction over certain enumerated criminal offenses, including assault, when they are committed by “[a]ny Indian” within “Indian country.” 18 U.S.C. § 1153. At trial, Mr. Wood disputed that he was an “Indian” for the purposes of the statute. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Wood was not an enrolled member of any tribe. His mother was an enrolled member of a tribe recognized only by the state of Michigan and not by the federal government, and all of Mr. Wood’s indigenous ancestry derives from his mother’s state-recognized tribe. Mr. Wood was previously married to a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, a federally recognized tribe. He was enrolled in the tribe throughout the course of his marriage, but he was disenrolled following his divorce, in accordance with the tribal constitution. He continued to work for the tribe’s casino on tribal land until the day of his arrest.

At trial, the district court judge instructed the jury that the government would need to prove the following two factors beyond a reasonable doubt in order to show that Mr. Wood was an “Indian” for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act: “First, that the defendant is descended from indigenous American ancestors; and Second, that the defendant was affiliated with a federally recognized tribe at or around the time of the offense.” Mr. Wood objected to these instructions at trial. The first issue on appeal centers around that objection and whether the jury instructions properly set forth the test for Indian status for the purpose of federal criminal jurisdiction.

Separately, the district court imposed a 120-month prison sentence upon Mr. Wood. This sentence fell within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines’ recommended range, based in part on the district court’s finding that Mr. Wood should be designated a “career offender” under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Had he not been classified as such, the Guidelines would have instead provided for a sentencing range of 30 to 37 months. On appeal, Mr. Wood argues that he should not have been given “career offender” status and that his sentence should be vacated.

A Message From the Organizers
This year’s Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court problem raises a number of sensitive issues, both in its legal questions and in its use of language. First, this problem frequently uses the term “Indian.” In fact, use of that term is central to one of the problem’s issues, which calls for interpreting the term “Indian” in a federal criminal statute. The two tribes mentioned in this problem—both of which are real tribes—use the term in their own names: the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. By necessity, this problem accepts a convention adopted by federal statutes and used by many tribes across the United States for referring, through a generality, to the diversity of Native American peoples and tribes across the country. Second, this problem grapples with two complex and challenging concerns: blood quantum as a measure of tribal membership and the federal courts’ authoritatively deciding the politico-racial status of individual parties. These concerns are not relics of the past, but remain live issues for Native peoples in the courts and for tribes internally, which must set membership criteria, and which often choose blood quantum as a useful indicator. This problem incorporates those real-world concerns.

Portrait of Justice Goodwin H. Liu

Justice Goodwin H. Liu, Supreme Court of California

Justice Goodwin H. Liu was sworn into office on the California Supreme Court on September 1, 2011. Before joining the state’s highest court, Liu was professor of law and associate dean at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Liu grew up in Sacramento. He went to Stanford University and earned a master’s in philosophy and physiology from the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Upon returning to the United States, he helped launch the AmeriCorps national service program and worked as a senior program officer at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Liu graduated from Yale Law School in 1998. He clerked for Judge David S. Tatel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59. From 2001 to 2003, Liu worked in the litigation practice of O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C. Liu is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Law Institute, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Portrait of Judge Michael H. Park

Judge Michael H. Park, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

Judge Michael H. Park was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in May 2019. He earned an A.B. magna cum laude from Princeton University and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as managing editor of the Yale Law Journal. Upon graduation from law school in 2001, Park served as a law clerk to then-Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. on the 3rd Circuit, for whom he also clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court during the 2008 term. Park was an associate in the New York office of WilmerHale from 2002 to 2006, and he served as an attorney-adviser in the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, from 2006 to 2008. Park worked in the New York office of Dechert, first as counsel (2009 to 2011) and then as a partner (2012 to 2015). In 2015, Park joined Consovoy McCarthy Park as a name partner, where he specialized in appellate and complex civil litigation. During that time, he also served as an adjunct professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.

Portrait of Judge Myrna Pérez ’03

Judge Myrna Pérez ’03, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

Judge Myrna Pérez ’03 was sworn in as a U.S. Circuit Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in November 2021. From 2006 until her appointment, she served in various roles at the Brennan Center for Justice, most recently as the director of its Voting Rights and Elections Program. She has been a lecturer in law at Columbia Law School since 2016, where she teaches a seminar on election law. Pérez served as a law clerk for Judge Anita B. Brody ’58 on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and for Judge Julio M. Fuentes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. She received a J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2003, an M.P.P. from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1998, and a B.A. from Yale University in 1996. Active in her different communities, she holds formal and informal positions in her church and with local community service organizations. Pérez was born and raised in San Antonio.


Many thanks to Sophia F. Bernhardt, lecturer in law and director of Legal Writing and Moot Court Programs, for her ceaseless energy and attention to detail. Her help was invaluable both in constructing the problem and organizing the competition. Daniel Richman, Paul J. Kellner Professor of Law, and Precious D. Benally, lecturer in law, were generous with their time and expertise in reviewing early ideas for this problem. We owe thanks more broadly to the numerous reviewers who lent their eyes and red ink to our work in progress. Finally, we are enormously grateful to the competitors, who generously directed their ingenuity and obvious talent toward narrow questions in federal sentencing and Indian law, both notoriously thorny areas. Their unflagging interest and dedication is the lifeblood of this competition.

Spotlight February 17, 2023

Black and white photo of a man seated wearing justice's robes

“The law itself is on trial in every case as well as the cause before it.”


Cast in Stone

Born on a farm in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, on October 11, Stone grows up in Amherst, Massachusetts. (Stone’s family on his father’s side originally arrived from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635.) 


Stepping Stone

Graduates from Amherst College, where he plays on the football team and becomes acquainted with fellow student and future President Calvin Coolidge, who will later nominate Stone to the Supreme Court. His classmates predict Stone will “proceed to be the most famous man in [the class of] ’94.”


A Stone’s Throw Away

Graduates from Columbia Law School, joins the New York City firm of Wilmer and Canfield (later Satterlee, Canfield, & Stone), and, in 1899, begins teaching at Columbia Law as a lecturer in law. In 1905, he resigns from the faculty to devote himself full-time to private practice.


The New Stone Age

Returns to Columbia Law School as dean and resumes teaching. An inspiring educator who champions the increasingly popular “case” method, he teaches courses in trusts, contracts, mortgages, criminal law, and property. Students regard him as a friend and honor him by calling themselves “Stone-agers.” After repeatedly clashing with Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler, Stone resigns in 1923 and joins the Wall Street firm Sullivan & Cromwell.



Pushes back against Barnard College Dean Virginia Gildersleeve, who lobbies for women to be admitted to the Law School. In a letter to Gildersleeve, he tells her the faculty believes it is “inadvisable” for any law school to be coeducational. “What I would like to see is a serious undertaking to establish an independent school for women. This, I believe, is the proper solution of the problem,” he wrote her. (The Columbia Law faculty votes to admit women on the same terms as men in 1928.)


Set in Stone

Appointed by President Calvin Coolidge as U.S. attorney general. His most enduring legacy as attorney general is selecting 29-year-old J. Edgar Hoover as acting director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation. Hoover, who becomes its director by the end of the year, leads the agency (renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935) until his death in 1972.


Rolling Stone

Nominated to the Supreme Court, where former President William Howard Taft is chief justice, Stone is the first nominee to have a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On the high court, he soon aligns himself with the titanic left-of-center justices Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes. 


Killing Two Birds With One Stone

Delivers an eloquent and important dissent in United States v. Butler outlining two principles for declaring statutes unconstitutional.One is that courts are concerned only with the power to enact statutes, not their wisdom,” he writes. “The other is that while unconstitutional exercise of power by the executive and legislative branches of the government is subject to judicial restraint, the only check up our own exercise of power is our own sense of self-restraint.”


Leaving No Stone Unturned

In Stone’s opinion in United States v. Carolene Products Co., his footnote No. 4 becomes what is universally recognized as “the most important footnote in constitutional law.” He writes that legislation should be “subjected to more exacting judicial scrutiny” when it is “directed at particular religious, or national, or racial minorities” who are victims of “prejudice,” which spawns the principle of judicial review known as strict scrutiny. 


Hits a Stone Wall

Stone is the lone dissenter in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, maintaining that a group of Jehovah’s Witness children have the right to not salute the flag—in defiance of a Pennsylvania flag salute statute—because they believe the action to be against their religious beliefs. (They consider the flag a graven image.) Stone maintains that the Pennsylvania statute violates the students’ rights to freedom of speech and religion, and he reads his entire dissent from the bench.


Etched in Stone

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who attended the Law School from 1905 to 1907) appoints Stone to succeed Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes Sr. 1884. The poet Archibald MacLeish writes that Stone’s elevation, on July 3, to chief justice is “so clearly and certainly and surely right, it resounded in the world like the perfect word spoken at the perfect moment.” Prior to his appointment, Stone writes the majority opinion in United States v. Darby Lumber Co., holding the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to be a valid exercise of federal power under the commerce clause. The Darby opinion made Stone “the intellectual leader of the Court’s center,” according to Stone biographer Alpheus T. Mason.


Squeezing Blood From a Stone

The Supreme Court hears another flag salute case from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette. By a 6–3 vote, the justices side with Stone and overturn Gobitis. Justice Robert Jackson’s majority opinion echoes Stone’s lone dissent in Gobitis three years earlier.


Engraved in Stone

Stone passes away on April 22 at 73, a few hours after having a cerebral hemorrhage while presiding over a session of the Supreme Court. Some 2,000 people attend his funeral at the Washington Cathedral, and he is buried at Rock Creek Cemetery. One of his eulogists is Alben Barkley, a senator from Kentucky and future vice president, who says, “No associate justice or chief justice . . . held a more abiding place in the affections of the American people and in the affections of all who knew him intimately and personally.” The Columbia Law Review memorializes him in September with the article “Harlan Fiske Stone: Teacher, Scholar and Dean.” 


Long-standing Stone