Seventy anxious people converged on a federal courtroom in Washington D.C. March 30, prepared to litigate a contentious yet fictitious legal case. These young men and women were not lawyers, but students from all across the country taking part in a moot court competition.
The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project facilitates this annual contest between high school students, who were guided in their preparation for the competition by law students and scholars from 14 of the nation’s law schools. The formation of the project’s chapter at the College of William and Mary was announced this year, just in time for the College’s team to win the competition.
“Teachers will challenge students to understand both the costs and the benefits of interpreting the Constitution one way as opposed to another,” the College’s chapter of the Marshall Brennan Project said in a statement. “Students will be asked to choose or take a side on key issues, encouraging critical thinking and writing. Through preparing to discuss a constitutional issue in a moot court tournament, students will learn to speak intelligently on their feet.”
At the heart of the project is a desire to empower students to better analyze and tackle the problems they confront every day. Project administrators and teachers believe they accomplish this by inspiring students to dig deep into legal issues, in a process which is highly beneficial to all involved.
“The experience challenges [Williamsburg- James City County] students, ultimately making them feel like better, smarter, more responsible citizens,” Adjunct Professor of Law Charles Crimmins ’10 said. “The law students, who teach them, in turn, feel the same. All are better able to respect others and compromise.”
The project, named for two former U.S. Supreme Court Justices, has chapters at 19 American universities, and two universities abroad. Designed to benefit high school students, the project offers an educational moot court experience for its participants.
“The National Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition serves as an opportunity for high school students participating in Marshall-Brennan classes to showcase their oral advocacy skills, network, and learn about careers in the law,” the Project said in a public statement.
Crimmins believes that the project is especially important when it comes to national politics that many believe are spiteful and conducive to legislative gridlock. Part of this stems from the Charter Day speech given by the College’s 28th Chancellor, Robert Gates ’65.
“Chancellor Gates, during his remarks on Charter Day, noted that the United States’s entire system of government is based on compromise and that the U.S. Constitution itself is a bundle of compromises,” Crimmins said. “Graduates of the William and Mary and [Williamsburg-James City County Schools’s] Marshall-Brennan program understand that facts outweigh sound bites and that issues must responsibly be analyzed from all sides. This awareness that students have gained through teaching and learning the Constitution, leaves the graduates uniquely equipped to lead our country in a positive direction going forward.”
Faculty and students at law schools including the College, Yale University, University of California and even City University of Hong Kong facilitate the Project.