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Announcing the 2017 Harlan Institute-ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition

The Harlan Institute and The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) announce their Fifth 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 Trinity Lutheran Church v. Sarah Parker Pauley.

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:  Does funding a playground associated with a Church violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

The Rules

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

Stage One: The Briefing and Oral Arguments

A team of two students will be responsible for writing an appellate brief arguing for either the petitioner or the respondent. This brief and video will be posted on their class’s FantasySCOTUS.  Blog posts and videos will be due by February 27, 2017. Completed briefs will be awarded the ConSource Badge. You can see the winning briefs from 201320142015, and 2016.


Stage Two: The Tournamnet

The Harlan Institute and ConSource will select the top teams supporting the Petitioner and Respondent, and seed them for the oral argument semifinals on March 11, 2017. All 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. You can see the video from the 201320142015, and 2016 competitions.

The final round of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition will be held in Philadelphia on April 13, 2017. The Harlan Institute and ConSource will sponsor the top two teams, and their teachers, for a trip to Philadelphia to debate in front of a panel of expert judges, including lawyers, university level debate champions, and legal scholars.

The Prizes

Grand Prize – The Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS

The members of grand-prize winning team, the Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS, and their teacher, 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 2017. This offer is open to U.S. residents only.

Second Prize

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

Third Prize

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

Instructions

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.

 

ConSource-Harlan Institute Virtual Supreme Court Tournament Featured in Washington Times

My colleague Julie Silverbrook of ConSource featured the ConSource-Harlan Institute Virtual Supreme Court Competition in her Washington Times article on civic education. Here is a snippet:

National Constitutional Literacy Campaign partners host several of these annual competitions, including the ConSource-Harlan Institute Virtual Supreme Court Competition, the Center for Civic Education’s We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution Competition, the Constitution Bee, the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project’s Annual Moot Court Competition, the Nethercutt Foundation Citizenship Tournament, and One Generation Away’s Roots of Liberty national essay contest.

Despite expressing deep concerns about where the country is headed, most of the students expressed positive views about the future. They draw this optimism, in part, from their experiences with student competitions, which showed these young citizens how to effect positive change at the local, state and national level.

Tanya Reyna, a winner of the ConSource-Harlan Institute Virtual Supreme Court Competition, noted that while her local community in Texas suffers from “an influx of drugs and criminals” and has dampened her views about the future of her community and the nation, her experience with the Virtual Supreme Court Competition “eased [her] apprehension” about the future. She said that meeting students, lawyers, professors and judges willing to take time out of their busy schedules “to inform younger generations of citizens about our legal system,” demonstrated to her that “as long as there are citizens like them, America will continue to hold a bright future.”

This picture was taken at the National Constitution Center for the final round of our tournament. I am joined by Howard Bashman, Kim Roosevelt, Julie Silverbrook, and Chief Judge McKee (CA3).

consource

Texas Students Win the National Harlan Institute – ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition; Oregon Team Places Second.

On April 13, 2016, The Harlan Institute and The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) held the championship round of the Fourth Annual Harlan Institute – ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition as part of the National Constitution Center’s annual Freedom Day Celebration. The video is available here. The Virtual Supreme Court 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’s competition focused on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (II), exploring whether race conscious affirmative action is consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

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Kelsey Talbot and Lauren Anderson from Lake Oswego High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon, represented the petitioner, Abigail Fisher.

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Michael Mireles and Tanya Reyna from IDEA Quest College Preparatory in Edinburg, Texas, represented the respondent, the University of Texas at Austin.

quest

To reach the championship round at the National Constitution Center, these outstanding students had to compete against dozens of teams from all corners of the continental United States. Talbot and Anderson and Mireles and Reyna not only submitted the best-written appellate briefs, but also proved to be the most able oral advocates in the preliminary oral argument rounds.

Their skills were put to the test during the championship round where, during oral argument in front of a live panel of distinguished judges, they students had to respond to rapid fire and complex legal questions. The competition was judged by The Honorable Theodore McKee, Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Professor Kermit Roosevelt, University of Pennsylvania School of Law; Mr. Howard Bashman, Appellate Attorney and Founder of the How Appealing Blog; Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director, ConSource; Josh Blackman, President, Harlan Institute; Matthew Rohn, Franklin and Marshall College debate champion; and, Miriam Pierson, Swarthmore College debate champion.

The competition was fierce, but Mireles and Reyna prevailed in the end and were named the champions of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition.

University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Kermit Roosevelt, who served on the distinguished panel of judges for this year’s competition, said of the student competitors, “I was enormously impressed with the passion and knowledge the students demonstrated. Opportunities like this one—and students who take advantage of them—make me more optimistic about the future of our republic.”

Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director of ConSource, said the students “represent the very best of America.  They are informed, engaged and passionate. I have no doubt that all four of our finalists will go on to achieve great things.”

The national finalists, Michael Mireles and Tanya Reyna, both juniors at IDEA Quest College Preparatory in Texas, are shining stars in their community. Mireles is the president for the Junior Statesmen of America chapter, the vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America, and a member of the Bezos Scholar Program. Reyna is the president of the Student Council, director of debate for Junior Statesmen of America, point guard for her school’s basketball team, and a regional qualify for track and cross country.

Gerrit Koepping said of his students, who placed second in this year’s national competition, “even though this is the second semester of their senior year, my students were enthusiastic to participate in the competition. They were drawn to the challenge of arguing one of the most controversial cases before the Supreme Court this year. As a teacher, I always embrace any opportunity to have my students engage in legal and philosophical issues with the outside community. This competition allows the students to contribute their own thoughts to the larger national debate.”

Kelsey Talbot said of the competition, and her impressive second place finish, “it was an amazing experience and we are beyond grateful for the chance to compete at this level.” Tanya Reyna shared a heartfelt message after being named national champion, along with her partner Michael Mireles, “This was certainly the experience of a lifetime, one that I will never forget. Being able to meet individuals … so tenacious in the subject of legal matters is an attribution my community is relatively deprived of, making presenting in front of a panel of judges as shrewd as those chosen evermore heartfelt.”

Reyna and Mireles, along with their coaches Marcos Silva and Molly Lane, 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 2016. Kelsey Talbot and Lauren Anderson will each receive iPad Minis.

Josh Blackman, reflecting on this year’s competition said, “The Virtual Supreme Court Competition is the crowning achievement of a four-year project started by the Harlan Institute and ConSource. We are so proud to have partnered with the National Constitution Center to host our competition on Freedom Day, and hope to make this an annual tradition.”

If you are interested in registering your students for next year’s competition, please email info@harlaninstitute.org or info@consource.org to get on the mailing list for next year’s competition, which will be announced in the fall.

Finalists Selected for Championship Round of the Harlan Institute and The Constitutional Sources Project’s Virtual Supreme Court Competition

The National Constitution Center, The Harlan Institute, and The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) will host the championship round of the Fourth Annual Harlan Institute-ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition as part of the Center’s Freedom Day Celebration on April 13, 2016 at 2 p.m.. We are pleased to announce that the finalist teams have been selected, and include:

For the petitioners: Kelsey Talbot and Lauren Talbot from Lake Oswego High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

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Here is the video from their championship round.

For the respondents: Michael Mireles and Tanya Reyna from IDEA Quest College Preparatory in Edinburg, Texas.

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Here is their video:

These finalists will travel, along with their teacher and parents, to Philadelphia on April 13th to debate in front of a panel of expert judges, including lawyers, university level debate champions, and legal scholars. Confirmed judges include: The Honorable Theodore McKee, Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Professor Kermit Roosevelt, University of Pennsylvania School of Law; Mr. Howard Bashman, Appellate Attorney and Founder of the How Appealing Blog; Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director, ConSource; Josh Blackman, President, Harlan Institute.

Freedom Day is an opportunity to encourage people of all ages to appreciate their unique freedoms as Americans, to understand the relationship between the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution, and to encourage dialogue on the meaning of freedom. In addition to the debate, the Center will produce Freedom Day programming and activities for visitors of all ages, including educational games and museum experiences for students, and an evening program for an invitation-only audience featuring high level speakers, moderators, and media discussing current issues surrounding the First Amendment.

The Harlan Institute and ConSource are thrilled that the final round of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition will be part of the National Constitution Center’s Freedom Day celebration. The aim of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition complements that of Freedom Day – to encourage dialogue on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the 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’s competition focuses on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (II), exploring whether race conscious affirmative action is consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.The members of the 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 2016. Members of the runner-up team will each receive an iPad Mini. Members of the third and fourth place teams will each receive a $100 Amazon.com Gift card.

Respondent’s Brief: Nehalem Kunkle-Read and Samarra Watson

Respondent’s Brief: Nehalem Kunkle-Read and Samarra Watson, Lake Oswego High School

Oral Argument: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ke9zTcNk6lc&feature=em-upload_owner

2/16/2016

Lake Oswego High School

Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Brief for the Respondent

Nehalem Kunkle-Read and Samarra Watson, Lake Oswego High School, Oregon

2501 Country Club Rd, Lake Oswego, OR 97034

Table of Cited Authorities:

cases

Bakke v. Regents

438 U.S. 265 (1978)…………………………..4

Gratz V. Bollinger

539 US 224 (2003)……………………………………………………………………………………………………………3

Grutter V. Bollinger

539 US 306 (2003)……………………………………………………………………………………………………………3

Howe v. Brown

319 F. Supp. 862 (N.D. Ohio 1970)……………………………………………………………………………………3

Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District

551 US 701 (2007)……………………………………………………………………………………………………………3

United States V. Carolene Products

304 US 144 (1938)……………………………………………………………………………………………………………3

Other Authorities

14th amendment, Constitution of the United States…………………………………………………………3,4,5

University of Washington Affirmative Action Study…………………………………………………………….4

Statement of Argument

In the case of Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, race conscious affirmative action is consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In 1938, the United States V. Carolene Products case determining New Deal legislation constitutionality established different levels of judicial scrutiny in its fourth footnote. With this understanding, racial discrimination is considered under strict scrutiny and regulations must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. This standard was established during Grutter v. Bollinger. These requirements were specified under the ruling of the Gratz V. Bollinger and Grutter V. Bollinger cases, in which affirmative action efforts were accepted as long as they did not follow a mechanistic system. In Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the petitioner, Abigail Fisher, argued before the court saying that her denial to the University of Texas was the result of racial discrimination, as the University’s affirmative action policy clearly violated the equal protection clause under the 14th amendment. However, we agree with the fifth circuit ruling that the University’s policy is narrowly tailored and serves a compelling state interest of developing a diverse learning community.

Argument

I. Affirmative action is established to fulfill a compelling state interest

In the 1970 case Howe v. Brown, the court held that affirmative action should be applied to equal protection and voting rights cases. Compelling state interest includes keeping citizens safe and protecting individual rights defined by the constitution. Although there is no bright-line rule defining compelling state interest, affirmative action clearly fulfills this role. Because the purpose of affirmative action is to provide opportunity to minority students who may not otherwise have the means to receive a higher level education, supporters of affirmative action argue that it serves to combat the long lasting effects of discrimination and encourage future generations from reverting back to a society divided strictly by race. The court ruled in favor of affirmative action during California vs. Bakke, stating, “Racial and ethnic classifications of any sort are inherently suspect and call for the most exacting judicial scrutiny. While the goal of achieving a diverse student body is sufficiently compelling to justify consideration of race in admissions decisions under some circumstances, petitioner’s special admissions program, which forecloses consideration to persons like respondent, is unnecessary to the achievement of this compelling goal, and therefore invalid under the Equal Protection Clause.” In 2007, the supreme court ruled that in the case of Parents Involved vs. Seattle Schools, the school district’s attempts to balance the schools with ethnically diverse students were unconstitutional because there was no compelling state interest present. However, in the case of Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, rather than transporting students from campus to campus in an attempt to desegregate as many schools attempted following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, affirmative action could be the difference between a student receiving the opportunity to beat the odds and secure a brighter future.

 

II. The protocol for affirmative action at the University of Texas at Austin is narrowly tailored

Affirmative action policies are followed in order to promote a more diverse learning environment that promotes future equality. This goal is established by the government and the program is narrowly tailored to accomplish its purpose. A white student argued that he had not been given the right to equal protection of the laws because after he was denied from UC medical school while other minority candidates took his spot. The court found that Bakke had not been provided equal protection because the school’s goals were too quota driven. In this case, affirmative action was allowed as long as it was not quota driven.

Affirmative action policies have proven to be the only effective way to promote such diversity. Affirmative action is currently banned among all public universities in California, Washington, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, and Oklahoma. A study conducted by the University of Washington in 2013 revealed that minority students had a 23% drop in acceptance to schools that banned affirmative action. There are a few alternative methods to accepting minority students, however, they have proven to be unsuccessful relative to affirmative action policies. Schools have made an attempt to recruit minority students, use percentage plans, and by accepting students of a lower economic status, hoping that it will in turn help minority students. When asked whether these alternative methods were effective, Mark Long, researcher from University of Washington, stated, “they are partially helpful, but they are not fully effective in restoring the minority share that would’ve been admitted under affirmative action.” According to his research,  “41 percent of the minority share that was lost by eliminating affirmative action.” No other methods made an impact as astounding as affirmative action itself, proving that it is the only method that can effectively fulfill its purpose.

III. The equal protection clause of the 14th amendment was created with the purpose of protecting minorities

The fourteenth amendment was drafted in the wake of the Civil War in order to protect the rights of the freed slaves. It sought equal protection to the men and women who were freed and was a response to discrimination that the slaves would face after their freedom. There is a belief that slavery and the discrimination that followed, opened a gap between the minority groups that is still present. The compelling interest for schools is to reach a critical amount of diversity on their campuses.  Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that the Constitution “does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” The Michigan school’s goal was to obtain a  “critical mass” of racially diverse students on campus, it was different from the illegal hard-line quota in Bakke. And also, very importantly, Justice O’Connor mentions that this kind of racial affirmative action is not meant to last forever, she predicted that “25 years [after this case], the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

IV. Abigail Fisher lacks standing in the Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case

Abigail Fisher has no standing in her case against the University of Texas at Austin. At the federal level legal actions cannot be bought simply because an individual is unhappy or displeased with the outcome of a government action. Further, by the time that this case had gone to court Abigail had enrolled and began school at a different university, Louisiana State University, and graduated in 2012.  “The only thing I missed out on was my post-graduation years,” she told The New York Times in 2012. “Just being in a network of UT graduates would have been a really nice thing to be in. And I probably would have gotten a better job offer had I gone to UT.” Abigail is quoted claiming that the only harm she suffered was “probably” getting a better job offer had she gone to UT. University of Texas at Austin also states that only 5 Black/Latino students with lower grades and test scores were admitted into the university, while 42 students were white. Fisher also claimed that the 10% plan was unconstitutional, yet the court found that the case of Grutter confronted a similar program and found that “percentage plans are a complete, workable alternative to race-conscious holistic review.” Abigail’s claim that UT is seeking interest in favoring minority groups is without basis, as the schools only goal is to provide a diverse learning environment for students from different backgrounds.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is clear that race conscious affirmative action is consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In the case of Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the affirmative action policy is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest of providing minority students with the means to receive an education that will improve their lives and the lives of their future children. Additionally, the equal protections clause was created with the purpose of protecting the rights of the freed slaves. Today, it continues to serve to combat the repercussions from slavery.

Therefore, we respectfully suggest that the judgement of the fifth circuit should be upheld.

Nehalem Kunkle-Read and Samarra Watson

 


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