Moot court is an annual intercollegiate competitive simulation of arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court with practicing attorneys and law students serving as judges.
Principia College fielded four teams of two students at the Model Illinois Government intercollegiate moot court competition. A total of 20 teams competed. This year’s mock case, based on an actual case to be heard by the Illinois Supreme Court, concerned a traffic stop that resulted in the discovery of marijuana. The issues involved how much or little evidence a police officer needs to pull a car over and how long a police officer can hold a driver during a traffic stop.
John Williams, associate professor of political science and coach of the Principia teams, noted, “The 2012 moot court competition was the most professional, in terms of quality and level of competition, of any I have witnessed in nearly 20 years.” Principia had a strong showing, with one team—junior Lisa Myles and Senior Zach Harmon (both political science majors)—arguing all the way to the quarterfinals. In addition, Harmon won the Top Novice Award.
Sarah Butson, a sophomore political science major, and Anthony Ackah-Nyanzu, a junior computer science major, placed third in the statewide moot court competition that was part of the Model Illinois Government simulation. The fourteen teams in the statewide competition came from community colleges, private colleges, and major state universities, including Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, and Northeastern Illinois. Sarah and Tony’s success among this wide-ranging field is especially impressive since both were first-time moot court competitors.
Speaking in the chambers that were once home to the Illinois Supreme Court, Sarah and Tony argued an appellate case based on the First Amendment and defamation. The 76-page case was written by an attorney from Chicago; judges included an assistant Illinois state attorney general and a number of law students. In the course of the competition, Sarah and Tony had to argue the case from both sides—as plaintiff (victim)/petitioner and as defendant (newspaper)/respondent. This required them to demonstrate their skill in argumentation, regardless of their position on the issue.
The Principia team earned a spot in the semi-finals, in part due to their command of the facts of the case and the relevant U.S. Supreme Court and Illinois court cases.