2024 Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Finals Tackle Medical Marijuana and Collegiate Athletics

On March 21, Matt Winesett ’24 won the prize for top oralist, and Christopher Morillo ’24 was recognized for best final round brief.

Four Columbia Law School students argued complicated questions involving medical marijuana and the relationship between NCAA student athletes and their universities in the 99th annual Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court competition finals on March 21.

The fictional case was written by student co-directors Sam Gordon ’24 and Julia Konstantinovsky ’24, who both participated in last year’s competition. (Gordon was a semifinalist, and Konstantinovsky was a finalist.)

In the final arguments, Jamie Herring LAW ’24, BUS ’24 and Matt Winesett ’24 argued on behalf of the fictional Woodward University, while Dakota Fenn ’24 and Christopher Morillo ’24 represented the imaginary plaintiff, Alexander P. Brown, who was kicked off the Woodward NCAA Division I men’s basketball team after informing his coach that he had a prescription for medical marijuana to treat chronic migraines. Brown’s argument was based on a Nevada law that says employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees’ medical marijuana use; the university argued Brown was not its employee and that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA)—which prohibits marijuana use—preempts Nevada’s law.

The students delivered their arguments before a panel of distinguished judges: Judges Raymond J. Lohier Jr. and Richard J. Sullivan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and Judge Arun Subramanian ’04 of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Herring started things off, arguing that Brown was not an employee of the university. But he faced pushback from the judges, including Lohier, who said—in light of, among other things, new NCAA rules that allow athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL)—that collegiate athletics are “awash in money.”

Man stands at a podium
Jamie Herring LAW ’24, BUS ’24

Nevertheless, Herring said, decades of precedent explicitly hold that student athletes are not employees. 

“The most fundamental pillar of employment law, as stated by the Supreme Court, is whether [someone] expects to be compensated for their work,” Herring said at one point. “Mr. Brown did not expect compensation from Woodward.”

Arguing for Brown, Fenn said his client—a scholarship recipient—expected multiple forms of compensation from the university. Sullivan tried to poke holes in that argument, however, pointing out that universities would have to distinguish between scholarship athletes (who would be employees) and walk-on athletes (who would not).

Man stands at a podium
Dakota Fenn ’24

“That may be what the economic realities test demands,” Fenn acknowledged.

Arguing the issue of preemption for the university, Winesett said the case was clear-cut: “Here we have a Nevada law running fully perpendicular to federal law,” he said. 

When the judges pointed out that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Congress seem to have no appetite for enforcing the CSA against those who use medical marijuana—or even nonmedical marijuana—Winesett replied, “If Congress really no longer cared about this, they should change the law.”

Man stands at a podium
Matt Winesett ’24

On behalf of Brown, Morillo also faced tough questioning, with Lohier pointing out that marijuana is still a Schedule I drug under the CSA. Morillo countered that for several years, Congress has included appropriations riders that prohibit the DOJ from using funds to disrupt states’ medical marijuana laws.

To hold that the CSA preempts Nevada’s law requiring reasonable accommodation for medical marijuana would be “throwing a wrench” into those efforts, Morillo said. 

After more than an hour of arguments, the judges left the room to deliberate. When they returned, they delivered the results: Winesett was awarded the Lawrence S. Greenbaum Prize for best oral presentation, and Morillo won best final round brief.

Man stands at a podium
Christopher Morillo ’24

The judges praised each of the finalists.

“You were all terrific,” Lohier said. “It was a privilege and an honor to listen to you. You’re way ahead of the game—I can tell you that.”

Subramanian said the judges were proud of the finalists and all the students in the room.

“You are the next generation of lawyers who are going to make an impact in our world for the good, and we need you,” he said.

The judges also commented on the complexity of the student-written case.

“It was a fascinating problem,” Sullivan said. “I wish we had more time. These arguments really merited it.”

Three men in judges' robes seated behind a desk and speaking into microphones
Left to right: Judges Richard J. Sullivan, Raymond J. Lohier Jr., and Arun Subramanian ’04

Gordon and Konstantinovsky said they came up with the idea for the case based in part on a case pending before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, a split between state supreme courts in cases involving medical cannabis and the federal Controlled Substances Act, and an ESPN segment on NIL issues.

Both co-directors said the most relevant experience was their own time in the competition last year.

“I wanted to make sure we designed a problem that was lively and topical and that had compelling legal arguments on both sides,” Konstantinovsky said.

As a competitor, Gordon said, “You get to see just how much effort the students put into crafting their arguments and therefore how much depth and nuance the issue needs to have.” 

The three-round Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court competition began in the fall, with 16 students advancing to the semifinals in February. After the competition, Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, thanked the judges, the students, and everyone who helped put the program together, who include Director of Legal Writing and Moot Court Programs Sophia Bernhardt and the moot court board. In addition to Gordon and Konstantinovsky, this year’s board included Executive Director Haley Klein ’24, Foundation Moot Court Director Ingrid Cherry ’24, Managing Directors Eveline Liu ’24 and Justin Norris ’24, and Specialized Moot Court Director Karsyn Archambeau ’24.

Morillo said, “Arguing in front of the judges was definitely the pinnacle of my time at Columbia Law School, and I am very thankful for the opportunity.”

Of winning best brief, he added, “I love brief writing, so it’s nice to know I’m not bad at it.”

Greenbaum Prize winner Winesett said he was “incredibly honored” by the award, “especially given the strength of all the finalists.”

The competition “was nerve-wracking, challenging, but ultimately very fun,” he said, “and hopefully a preview of my eventual career as a litigator.”

Meet Our Finalists

Dakota Fenn ’24 portrait

Dakota Fenn ’24

”[Moot Court] was an opportunity to get some more experience in litigation. Another draw was working with a partner. As law students, we don’t get to do that often enough. Teamwork is important in the legal profession. Third, a lot of us in law school enjoy thinking about new legal issues—trying to grapple with them and figure out the puzzle. This was a chance to do that.” Read more.

Jamie Herring LAW ’24, BUS ’24 portrait

Jamie Herring LAW ’24, BUS ’24

”You have to approach moot court as a conversation and a performance. In theater, the most important thing was developing a connection with the audience. It’s similar in moot court; you have to develop a connection to the judges.” Read more.

Christopher Morillo ’24 portrait

Christopher Morillo ’24

“I still retain some of my love for the pure logic of computer science, but I think law marries the best aspects of that with a bit more focus on justice, eloquence, good writing, and good advocacy.” Read more.

Matt Winesett ’24 portrait

Matt Winesett ’24

”I enjoy the brief-writing process a lot. I thought standing up and arguing would be intimidating, but oral arguments have been far more fun than I expected. Once judges start peppering you with questions, you don’t have time to be nervous.” Read more.

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