Moot Court Legacy Fosters College Mission

by Dr. Frank Guliuzza
February 9, 2011

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Last month in New Orleans, the Patrick Henry College team of Alex Harris and Brett Harris captured the 2011 American Collegiate Moot Court Association (ACMA) national championship.  It was the fifth such championship for PHC and the third in a row -- the illusive “three-peat” so rarely seen in any competitive arena.  Additionally, three other PHC teams finished in the top five nationally, and two others landed in the top twenty.  

For background, the ACMA is the national organization established to crown a national champion in intercollegiate moot court.  Each year, the ACMA continues to add new teams, and recent entrants include squads from Princeton, Duke, Harvard, and the University of Texas.  This season, approximately 250 teams registered to compete at eight qualifying tournaments held from coast-to-coast.  Their objective: to earn one of the 64 bids to the Championship Tournament. In many ways, the process of crowning a champion in moot court is not unlike the process of crowning a college basketball champion that begins next month with “March Madness.”  

For friends and supporters of Patrick Henry College, this year’s championship should be particularly meaningful, because the “case problem” that we argued during the season was, frankly, a problem.  As it turns out, it was also an opportunity.  The ACMA Board selected a thorny case that revolved around a same-sex couple who had been married in Massachusetts and who then moved to the fictitious state of Olympus.  Under the Obama health care plan, the couple was required to purchase health insurance.  Yet, because Olympus would not recognize their marriage in Massachusetts, the couple was unable to receive certain benefits that other married couples received in-state -- including an opportunity to purchase inexpensive health insurance.  Accordingly, they brought suit on those two issues: 1.) that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to require the insurance, and 2.) that Olympus should be required by the Constitution to recognize their marriage.  

In a moot court tournament, teams must argue both sides of the problem, and it looked as though our students might be required to argue in favor of a universal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  This put our students in a serious quandary, and unless we could come up with a way of advocating for the couple without having to argue in favor of this expanded definition of marriage, it looked for a while that we might not field a team for the 2010-2011 season.  Fortunately, we fashioned a very credible constitutional argument without asking our students to compromise their beliefs.  

Throughout the season, we made a series of legally-sound but rather unorthodox arguments, which our team members executed with a tremendous level of professionalism and passion.  This past fall, we entered teams at national qualifying events in Virginia, Florida, California, and, perhaps ironically, Massachusetts. Our teams took first place at each tournament.  In hindsight, to win the national ACMA championship in New Orleans for the fifth time in seven years was the culmination of an unprecedented competitive season.  Doing so without having to ask our students to compromise their values was, simply, a tremendous blessing from the LORD.  

Some might ask why success in this activity is so important.  It’s because of how this rigorous discipline so beautifully complements and reinforces the mission and founding vision of Patrick Henry College. The College’s mission is to shape the culture and serve the nation with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding. Our success in this arena suggests that we are representing our Father in Heaven and the College with excellence and integrity.  I can also assure you that it says a lot about the kind of education that we are providing to our students.  The simple truth is that the best intercollegiate moot court program in America is not at Princeton.  It is not at Duke.  It is not at Harvard.  It is here at Patrick Henry College!  As someone commented to me a few days ago, how many schools can say that they are the best in the country at anything? Our students work incredibly hard to prepare themselves, but credit and gratitude for the success we enjoy in this activity also goes to every member of the faculty, the administration, the on-campus staff, and especially to those who donate financially or who otherwise support the College.    

Intercollegiate moot court and mock trial are integral parts of our larger pre-law program at Patrick Henry.  Not every student who participates is interested in going to law school, but those that wish to do so benefit tremendously. In fifteen years and at two very different academic institutions, I have never had a student who, wanting to go to law school, failed to gain admission after competing in moot court or mock trial.

Our moot court team members frequently go on to attend the top law and postgraduate schools in the nation, including Harvard, Columbia, NYU, Chicago, Virginia, Duke, Georgetown, George Washington, UCLA, Cornell, Texas, and Notre Dame, to name but a few.  As these law students graduate, they will have the chance to a make a difference in ways that go well beyond winning championship trophies.  

They will help fulfill the mission of the College that Michael Farris envisioned not too many years ago when Patrick Henry was founded. They will help to lead the nation and shape the direction of our culture, and they will do so by using the best aspects of the freedoms we enjoy as American citizens:  the freedom to reason, to persuade, to educate, and to otherwise motivate Americans to serve something greater than their own self-interests.  We hope that the training they receive while competing on our team will, in at some small part, prepare them to embark on this effort as godly men and women, as Christ-like leaders who serve with vision and integrity, and as tenacious legal warriors equipped to hold their own with anyone in the nation.

Frank Guliuzza is the Dean of Academic Affairs and a Professor Government at Patrick Henry College, as well as co-coach of the College’s Moot Court Team. Dr. Guliuzza is a well-known scholar in the field of government and an expert in Constitutional Law, and he has published widely on the First Amendment (including the book Over the Wall: Protecting Religious Expression in the Public Square), the separation of church and state and the role of Christians in political activism.

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