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Harlan Institute » The 11th Annual Harlan Institute-Ashbrook Virtual Supreme Court
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The 11th Annual Harlan Institute-Ashbrook Virtual Supreme Court

October 3rd, 2022
The Harlan Institute and Ashbrook are pleased to announce the Eleventh 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 Students for Fair Admission v. University of North Carolina.
The competition is endorsed by the Center for Civic Education’s We The People Competition:
The Virtual Supreme Court Competition helps students gain the skills they need to understand, synthesize, and advocate for reasoned legal positions on timely and relevant constitutional issues, and in doing so deepens their commitment to the rule of law. The program directly supports the highest goals of the Center for Civic Education to develop enlightened and responsible members of our society, and it is a privilege to be a part of this important work. Christopher R. Riano President, The Center for Civic Education Member Board of Advisors, The Harlan Institute

The Question

Is race conscious affirmative action consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?

Tournament Instructions

Using historical materials related to the Fourteenth Amendment, and the precedents of the United States Supreme Court, teams of two high-school students will write an appellate brief, and present oral arguments, addressing this question:
  • Is race conscious affirmative action consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
Petitioners will argue that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits state universities from using race conscious affirmative action. Respondents will argue that the Fourteenth Amendment does not prohibit states universities from using race conscious affirmative action.

Phase 1 – Research and Write Your Brief

Coaches can register their teams at the Institute for Competition Sciences. After registering, teachers should contact the Harlan Institute and Ashbrook at We will assign teams to argue on behalf of the Petitioners or the Respondents. Teams will research and write their briefs. The brief must be a minimum of 2,000 words. Please download this template. The brief should have the following sections:
  1. Table of Cited Authorities: List all of the original sources, and other documents you cite in your brief.
  2. Summary of Argument: State your position succinctly in 250 words or less.
  3. Argument: Structure your argument based on at least five primary historical sources and at least three Supreme Court precedents. The more authorities you cite, the stronger your argument will be–and the more likely your team will advance.
  4. Conclusion: Summarize your argument, and argue how the Supreme Court should decide this issue.
Be sure to proofread your work. The work must be yours, and you may not seek help from anyone else–including attorneys or law students. Students who submit plagiarized briefs will be disqualified. Please review the winning submissions from previous years:

Phase 2 – Virtual Mentoring

Teams that register before November 1, 2022 will be invited to participate in a virtual mentoring session. These sessions will be hosted during the week of November 14, 2022. The Harlan Institute will match each class with a mentor from our network. These sessions will be helpful to finalize your briefs and prepare your preliminary round arguments.

Phase 3 – Preliminary Round

For the preliminary round, each team must prepare a YouTube video. The argument must be at least 15 minutes in length. Coaches will ask their students the following ten questions:
  1. Does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit race-conscious affirmative action?
  2. How does legislation enacted by Congress in the 1860s and 1870s affect your answer to question #1?
  3. Let’s assume that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment concluded that race-conscious legislation was constitutional in the 1860s and 1870s. Would that argument still work more than 150 years later in a very different society?
  4. Let’s assume that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment thought that people of African descent deserve certain race-conscious privileges due to the unique context of slavery. Would the Framers have argued that members of other races, such as Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans, could receive similar privileges?
  5. What would the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment have thought about affirmative action policies that benefit people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity?
  6. Does Brown v. Board of Education (1954) prohibit race-conscious affirmative action? In your answer, please address Bakke and Grutter.
  7. In 2003, Grutter observed that “25 years [after this case], the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” Will there ever be a point in time in which racial preferences are no longer needed? If not, should the Court allow racial preferences to go on forever?
  8. Should Grutter v. Bollinger be overruled? Please address the Supreme Court’s recent discussion of stare decisis in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
  9. If the Court declines to overrule Grutter, can the Plaintiffs prevail?
  10. If the Court overrules Grutter, will the military have difficulty recruiting a diverse armed service?
Teams will upload a PDF of their brief, as well as a link to their YouTube video to the Institute of Competition Sciences. The deadline for the preliminary round will be December 16, 2022. The brief and preliminary round video will be scored based on this rubric.

Phase 4 – Virtual Rounds

We will hold the Virtual Rounds over Zoom:
  • 2/13/23 and 2/15/23: Semifinal Round
  • 2/27/23 and 4/1/23: Round of 8
  • 3/27/23 and 3/29/23: Round of 4
The virtual rounds will be scored based on this rubric. This video offers five tips to prepare for oral argument:

Phase 5 – Championship Round Rounds

The top teams will receive a free trip to Washington, D.C. to argue the championship round before federal judges on April 24, 2023. Good luck! And register today.

The Prizes

Grand Prize – The Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS

The members of top Petitioner and Respondent teams will be invited to attend the Ashbrook Academy on the Supreme Court and the Constitution in June 2023. Ashbrook will cover reasonable travel costs to the academy. Members of the winning team will each receive a $500 Amazon gift card. Members of the runner-up team will each receive a $250 gift card.


Members of the and third-place and fourth-place finalist teams will each receive a $100 gift card.


Coaches can register their teams at the Institute of Competition Sciences. Read the problem, and get started! Good luck. Please send any questions to