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Announcing the 2014 Harlan Institute-ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition

Building on the success of the 2013 Virtual Supreme Court project, the Harlan Institute has partnered with The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) to host the second annual Virtual Supreme Court competition. This competition offers teams of two high school students the opportunity to research cutting-edge constitutional law, write persuasive appellate briefs, argue against other students through video chats, and try to persuade a panel of esteemed attorneys during oral argument that their side is correct. This year the competition focuses on National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning Corporation.

The competition is endorsed by the Center for Civic Education’s We The People Competition:

“The Center for Civic Education is excited to endorse the Virtual Supreme Court Competition. The Competition is relevant for high school students studying the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

-Robert Leming, Director, We the People Programs, Center for Civic Education

The Question

Resolved: What is the scope of the President’s recess appointment power?

The Rules

This competition has two stages, which mirror the process by which attorneys litigate cases. 

Stage One: The Briefing

A team of two students will be responsible for writing an appellate brief arguing for one side of the topic. This brief will be posted on their class’s FantasySCOTUS.  Blog posts will be due by February 28, 2014. Completed briefs will be awarded the ConSource Badge. You can see the winning briefs from 2013 here.

Stage Two: Oral Arguments

The Harlan Institute and ConSource will select the top four briefs taking the affirmative position, and the top brief briefs taking the negative position, and seed them for oral arguments. All eight teams will compete in a virtual oral argument session over Google+ Hangout judged by staff members at the Harlan Institute and ConSource. Only teams that submit briefs that fully comply with all of the rules will be considered for oral argument.

  • The first round of oral arguments, the District court, will match up the top eight teams, in March of 2014.
  • The four teams that advance will meet up in the second round of oral arguments, the Court of Appeals, in April of 2014.
  • The top two teams that advance will meet in the final round of oral arguments, the Supreme Court, in May of 2014. These two teams will compete virtually in front of a panel of prominent appellate attorneys. You can see the video from the 2013 Competition here. The winners will be crowned the Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS, and win an amazing prize.

The Prizes

Grand Prize – The Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS

The members of grand-prize winning team, the Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS, will receive a free trip, including airfare and one night of hotel accommodations, to Washington, D.C. to attend the ConSource Constitution Day celebration in September 2014. Winners must be at least 18 years at the time of the trip (it is no problem if the student has already graduated high school in September of 2014, so long as he or she was in high school during the competition). This offer is open to U.S. residents only.

Second Prize

Members of the runner-up team will each receive an iPad.

Third Prize

Members of the third and fourth place teams will each receive a $100 Amazon.com Giftcard.


Ask your teacher to sign up your class on FantasySCOTUS (all High School students can participate), add an account, read the problem, and get started! Good luck.

Please send any questions to info@harlaninstitute.org or info@consource.org.


Dallas Morning News Covers Harlan Institute-ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition

Today the Dallas Morning News Blog featured the winners of the inaugural Harlan Institute-Consource Virtual Supreme Court Competition.

Anderson, of Centennial, and Parsons, of Liberty, won the nationwide Harlan Institute’s Virtual Supreme Court competition in which they had to write appellate briefs and argue against other student teams via online video chats presented before a panel of professional attorneys.

This year the case argued by the students was Fisher v. University of Texas, which is currently pending before the United States Supreme Court concerning an affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Texas at Austin.

Congratulations to the two winners from Frisco, Texas,  D.J. Anderson and Jason Parsons, who won a trip to ConSource’s Fifth Annual Capital City Constitution Day program.

Here is a video of the event:

More coverage from Frisco ISD, ConSource, and the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune.

Texas High School Students Win 2013 ConSource-Harlan Institute Virtual Supreme Court Competition

On Monday, October 1, 2012, The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) and The Harlan Institute kicked off their inaugural Virtual Supreme Court Competition. The competition offered participating high school students the opportunity to research a contemporary constitutional issue – this year, affirmative action, craft appellate briefs, and present convincing legal arguments in our virtual courtroom using Google+ Video Hangouts.

Students from around the country submitted appellate briefs aimed at addressing the constitutional question – Is the Fourteenth Amendment color-blind? From the impressive briefs submitted as blog posts on the Harlan Institute’s FantasySCOTUS page (http://harlaninstitute.org/scoreboard/), legal experts at ConSource and the Harlan Institute selected the top brief-writing teams to participate in the oral argument round of the competition.

On Monday, April 22, 2013, students from the Frisco Career and Technical Education Center in Frisco, Texas competed in the championship oral argument round in front of a virtual bench of esteemed legal professionals. The judges included: Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director of ConSource; Josh Blackman, Harlan Institute President and South Texas College of Law professor; Tom Krattenmaker, former William & Mary Law School dean and clerk to Justice Harlan; and Matthew Fitzgerald, associate at McGuireWoods LLP and clerk to Justice Thomas.

The competing Frisco teams included seniors DJ Anderson and Jason Parson, as well as Derani Wiggins and Sarah Sietmann. Although the scores were incredibly close, the grand prize winners of the championship round were DJ Anderson and Jason Parson. Anderson and Parson will be flown to Washington, D.C. to participate in ConSource’s Fifth Annual Capital City Constitution Day program.

A video of the championship round is available here: http://youtu.be/rZl4yQ-2zlQ. Both teams of students should be commended for their excellent historical and legal research, writing, and oral argument skills.

Later in the day, another team of students from Frisco, as well as a team of students from Sioux Central High School in Sioux, Iowa competed in a non-advancing runner-up round. Again, the competition was very close, but the students from Frisco, Texas were able to prevail over their colleagues from Sioux Central High in Iowa.

All of the students and teachers who participated in the program should be applauded for their hard work and dedication. Mr. Benjamin Ewald of the Frisco CTE Center and Ms. Erin Olson of Sioux Central High School should be saluted for going above and beyond to prepare their students for the competition. Please join us in congratulating the participants and their wonderful teachers.

Information about the Inaugural Virtual Supreme Court Competition is available at: http://harlaninstitute.org/contests/virtual-supreme-court/,


Interested in coaching a team of students for the 2014 Virtual Supreme Court Competition? Email ConSource Executive Director Julie Silverbrook at

Julie.Silverbrook@consource.org or Harlan Institute President Josh Blackman atJBlackman@harlaninstitute.org.

Live: The 2013 Harlan Institute – ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition: Fisher v. University of Texas, Austin

The Harlan Institute-ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition

The Harlan Institute has partnered with The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) to host the inaugural Virtual Supreme Court competition. This competition offers teams of two high school students the opportunity to research cutting-edge constitutional law, write persuasive appellate briefs, argue against other students through video chats, and try to persuade a panel of esteemed attorneys during oral argument that their side is correct. This year the competition focuses on Fisher v. University of Texas.

Resolved: Is the Fourteenth Amendment Color-Blind?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Introduction: 10:15-11:20 EDT

Josh Blackman, The Harlan Institute

Championship Round: 10:20-1045

Team 1 (Petitioner – Fisher) v. Team 2 (Respondent – Texas)

Team 1 (Petitioner): DJ Anderson & Jason Parson (Frisco CTE Center, Frisco, Texas)

Team 2 (Respondent): Sarah Sietmann, Konnor Rodriguez (Frisco CTE Center, Frisco, Texas)


  • Petitioner-Anderson (5 minutes)

  • Respondent-Sietmann (5 minutes)

  • Petitioner-Parson, Rebuttal (3 minutes)

  • Respondent- Rodriguez, Rebuttal (3 minutes)

Runner-Up Round:10:45-11:10

Team 1 (Petitioner – Fisher) v. Team 2 (Respondent – Texas)

Team 1 (Petitioner): Katie Gibson, Amber Decker (Sioux Central High School, Sioux Rapids, Iowa)

Team 2 (Respondent): Baylee Hammonds and D. Wiggins (Frisco CTE Center, Frisco, Texas)



  • Petitioner 1 (5 minutes)

  • Respondent-Hammonds (5 minutes)

  • Petitioner 2 (3 minutes)

  • Respondent-Wiggins (3 minutes)


Concluding Remarks: 11:10-11:15

Julie Silverbrook, ConSource

Should courts give Congress the benefit of the doubt about the constitutionality of a statute that includes a provision for expedited judicial review?

Justice Scalia seems to doubt that benefit of the doubt. If Congress includes various provisions to allow courts to quickly assess whether a law is constitutional, it does raise doubts about whether Congress actually thought it was constitutional.

LAMB: All right. Let me read this to you, ”The modern congress sails close to the wind all the time. Federal statutes today often all but acknowledge their questionable constitutionality with provisions for accelerated judicial review for standing on the part of the members of congress, and even for fallback disposition, should the primary disposition be held unconstitutional.”

SCALIA: Right.

LAMB: I want to go back to that original thing, statement, ”The modern congress sails close to the wind all the time.”

SCALIA: Yes. That followed upon our statement that, traditionally, Congress is – you assume the constitutionality of any statute that Congress enacts because it is assumed that Congress would not – indeed if there is even constitutional doubt, you give the Congress the benefit of the doubt.

In recent years however, it’s more questionable whether Congress really is even thinking about the constitutionality and that passage recites the fact that this evident from the content of their statutes. I mean, who would have ever thought, in the 19th century for example, that congress would pass a statute that says, ”In the event the stuff we’re just said is unconstitutional, we have this other provision instead,” which is what congress has done.

I mean, that makes you wonder, are they really sure this stuff is constitutional? Have they really thought about it? And I think that comment was also made in response to the charge of ”judicial activism” which is a word that doesn’t mean anything really.

It just means that the person who uses it doesn’t agree with the decision. I mean, what is judicial activism? It is certainly not doing actively what judges ought to do. Is that judicial activism? I think not. And if a statute ought to be held unconstitutional it’s not judicial activism to call it unconstitutional.

It is interesting that the Affordable Care Act, which most knew from its outset was on a collision course with the Supreme Court, did not contain any expedited provisions (like the McCain Feingold BCRA had). David Bernstein blogged that an original version of HillaryCare included just such a provision. Alas, it seems the authors of the ACA did not take such concerns seriously.


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