New York, April 14, 2016—Arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court is a formidable challenge for veteran lawyers, but four Columbia Law School students exhibited calm under pressure—and considerable skill—when they fielded probing questions and pointed comments from Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. in the April 7 final arguments of the 2016 Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition.
Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. (center) and Judges José A. Cabranes and Cheryl Ann Krause question contestants in the final round of the April 7 Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition.
The School last hosted a member of the Supreme Court in 2014, when Associate Justice Elena Kagan presided. In the past nine years, the competition has welcomed four of the eight sitting justices: Alito, Kagan, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Chief Justice John Roberts.
This year’s four finalists were Alexander N. Ely
’16, Timothy T. Kim
’16, Logan J. Gowdey
’16, and Aaron Michael Macris
’16. In the end, Alito was impressed, if wistful. “I look back with some embarrassment on my own moot court performance in law school,” he said. “It would not compare favorably with what we've heard this afternoon.”
|From left to right: Alexander N. Ely '16 and Timothy T. Kim '16, arguing for the plaintiff, face off against Logan J. Gowdy '16 and Aaron Michael Macris '16, arguing for the defendant.|
Distinguished federal judges completed the bench: José A. Cabranes
of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Cheryl Ann Krause
of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Krause is a former instructor at Columbia Law School.
Alito said the judges were dealt the difficult task of selecting the best oralist. “This was a spectacular presentation by everybody,” he told the four finalists, in front of an audience of hundreds who filled two combined classrooms in Jerome Greene Hall. Many others watched the final arguments on a video feed.
“You easily exceeded the performance of even some really good attorneys who appear before our courts,” Alito said to the finalists. “You should be congratulated on your knowledge of the case law, on your knowledge of the problem, and on your ability to make a very effective oral presentation and to respond to questions, including some questions that were certainly nasty (we were trying to do that) and some that were unfair (we were trying to do that as well). You really did a very good job of keeping your composure while you were answering the questions.”
|The distinguished bench sits again, this time with student finalists, Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Faculty Director Philip M. Genty, and Dean Gillian Lester, at the end of the event. |
Best Oralist and Best Brief
The judges named Ely ’16 as the recipient of the Lawrence S. Greenbaum Prize for best oral presentation. The award, established in 1951, is named after a member of the Class of 1912.
“I obviously felt really nervous at the start,” said Ely, a native of Amherst, Massachusetts, who called the experience “definitely one of the highlights” of his time at the Law School. “I was glad that I got to go first, because you're able to frame the issues on appeal and try to push the court toward the issues that you want to discuss.”
He had rehearsed his presentation, but still faced plenty of surprises during the oral argument. “And there was the added pressure of getting questions from a sitting Supreme Court Justice—and doing it in front of a lot of your friends and family,” Ely said.
|Moot Court winner Alexander N. Ely '16 argues his case before the panel of distinguished judges as friends, family, faculty, and students look on. |
Ely is the editor-in-chief of the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law
and has worked as a research assistant to several faculty members, including professors Jessica Bulman-Pozen
, Sarah H. Cleveland
, Matthew C. Waxman
, and Anu Bradford
. He has interned at the U.S. Department of Defense and the Office of the Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State. After graduation, Ely will clerk for Judge Norman Stahl of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and then for Judge Richard Stearns of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
The Moot Court Executive Committee honored Macris ’16 for writing the best brief. In the fall, Macris will join the Boston office of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr as a litigation associate.
About the Case
The plaintiff, myDoc, is a California company that markets a popular application for consulting doctors by smart phone and tablet. It is facing opposition in the State of Earhartington, where a doctors’ association has pushed for a revision of the state’s medical practice law to prohibit the electronic provision of services by out-of-state doctors. The tech firm has hired a lobbyist to meet with legislators before a vote on the measure, but it has halted a grassroots appeal to its users because it fears a letter-writing campaign would look like “astroturf” lobbying and have to be disclosed under the Earhartington Ethical Lobbying Act.
The company sued the Earhartington Ethics Commission for requiring disclosure of grassroots lobbying expenditures, claiming the requirement was an unconstitutional restraint on free speech under the First Amendment. Earhartington responded that myDoc lacked standing and ripeness, and that states were constitutionally permitted to require the disclosure of lobbying expenses, both direct and indirect, without violating the First Amendment. A district court had granted Earhartington’s motion for summary judgment, the story goes, and myDoc appealed.
|Moot court finalist Timothy T. Kim '16 takes a "selfie" with Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.|
Sides were assigned, though the moot court judges, as is customary, did not make a final ruling. Ely and Kim argued for the plaintiff; Gowdey and Macris represented the defendant. All of the finalists received certificates of achievement—and handshakes from the judges. “Compliments to everybody,” said Alito.
About the Competition
The Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court is a three-round elimination competition in appellate advocacy for second- and third-year students. This year 47 students entered the first round in the fall term. Many alumni returned to the Law School to judge the preliminary rounds.
Judge Cabranes thanked the organizers, holding up a thick sheaf of papers prepared for the trial. “This is a substantial record—it would weigh in at ten pounds or more,” he said to laughter. “That’s a lot of work.” In fact, the problem was 110 pages long.
Cabranes singled out for praise the Moot Court Executive Committee: Co-directors of the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court, Sarah Mac Dougall ’16 and Sydney A. Egnasko ’16, who conceived and wrote the problem; Executive Director of the Moot Court Program, Michael-Anthony Jaoude ’16; Director of the First-year Foundation Moot Court Program, Steven M. LoCascio ’16; and the Director of the Specialized Moot Court Program, Cady C. Nicol ’16. “And then there’s always the most important person in the room,” Cabranes said in closing to audience laughter, “the bailiff, Jeffrey Coyle ’16.”
The competition is named after the Supreme Court justice
and graduate of the Class of 1898, who served as dean of the Law School from 1910 until 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge appointed him U.S. attorney general. Stone was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court the following year and became chief justice in 1941.
Organizers and participants are all smiles following the 2016 Moot Court competition. (From left to right: Jeffrey W. Coyle '16, semi-finalist and bailiff; Sydney A. Egnasko ’16, Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Co-director; Dean Gillian Lester; Steven M. LoCascio ’16, Director, First-year Foundation Moot Court Program; Michael-Anthony Jaoude ’16, Executive Director, Moot Court Program; Sarah Mac Dougall ’16, Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Co-director; Professor Philip M. Genty, Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Faculty Director)
Columbia Law School’s Moot Court Program is overseen by Philip M. Genty, the Everett B. Birch Innovative Teaching Clinical Professor in Professional Responsibility, and Ilene Strauss, Director of Legal Writing and Moot Court Programs. The competition is made possible by the support of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.
Following the formal event, the judges took off their robes—and their game faces—as they mingled and posed for “selfies” with the competitors and their support teams during a celebratory reception. Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, congratulated and chatted with the competitors, and their families, while also engaging in private conversations with the judges.