“May it please the court,” Langley senior Nick Hallmark begins. But it quickly becomes apparent he will need to answer an avalanche of questions before he is able to appease the court. In a practice session leading up to Friday’s Case Day at Langley High School, an annual mock U.S. Supreme Court show put on by Advanced Placement Government seniors, Hallmark makes it through maybe 50 words of his opening argument before the questions turn into an onslaught. It’s a rough crowd of fellow students and government teachers, who serve as mock-U.S. Supreme Court justices during the practice.
As Hallmark comes out from behind the lectern after his 15 minutes of oral argument time is up, he visibly sighs.
“That time... I did alright,” he said. “It was iffy. They got into some areas I wasn’t expecting.”
It’s Tuesday, and Hallmark and his fellow students are conducting a dress rehearsal for Friday’s big event, which will be in Langley’s library. During Case Day, now in its 21st year at Langley, Hallmark and three other students will be given 15 minutes each to argue their side of a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Two additional students will serve as justices on a panel of nine, which will also include five professional attorneys, School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville District) and Georgetown Law Professor David Koplow.
“The case that we’re doing this year is Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. We’re debating whether Arizona’s Proposition 200 [known as the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2004] interferes with the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act of 1993],” said Langley senior Cynthia Ding, 18, who argues the opposite point of Hallmark and serves as one of two counsels for the respondent. “We have weekly or biweekly practices where we run through our arguments.”
Her debate partner, senior Mujtaba Wani, 17, said, “The only thing that could go wrong [Friday] is if a justice takes us in a direction that we were totally unprepared for.”
The Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court argues two points. First, whether a lower court wrongfully created a more strict voter eligibility test under Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution that runs contrary to the other previous Supreme Court decisions. The second issue debated is whether the lower court, the Ninth Circuit Court, was wrong in enforcing this voter proof of eligibility because it runs contrary to the federal National Voter Registration Act, according to SCOTUSblog.com.
“We try to pick the best of what [the court clerk] has to offer,” teacher Matt Kissling said. “[Students] are going to argue this case on Friday, and then on Monday, they’ll see the lawyers argue the real case in court.”
The students arguing as counsel and serving as justices during Case Day are just six of the 300 to 350 Langley government students participating in the event. Students are graded on the Case Day assignment based on participation, which can be anything from coordinating the event, researching for the justices or making treats for the event. Students also are quizzed on the case itself and must have a conversation about the case with their parents or guardians.
“One of the amazing things is these kids [at practice Wednesday] don’t get a better grade or more points for their level of involvement. They’re doing it just for the experience,” said teacher Allison Cohen, adding that this shows the level of care the students have for mock-SCOTUS.
Senior Clayton Kennedy, 18, who serves as a justice, said, “Being in a room with seven other brilliant lawyers and professors who have been to the best schools... that’s probably what I’m most excited about. We hear oral arguments from these guys, and then we go back [and] conference, only the nine of us, and discuss the case.”
Fellow mock-justice and senior Greg Adams, 18, joked if he is having a bad day or was nervous on Case day, he’ll just say he was mimicking the behavior of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas on Case Day.
“That’s a joke [because] Clarence Thomas doesn’t ever speak,” he said. “Mostly I’m looking for essentially logical consistency in their arguments. I get to argue both sides. I get to go back and forth with them. And when we do write an opinion, we’ll get to sit with seven adult justices.”
Several of the students said knowing they would be arguing in front of the school and professionals made them up their preparation and increased their excitement for Case Day.
“I think for the most part we are ready,” said senior Michael Osgood, 17, who serves as counsel representing Arizona. “Each practise we kind of learn a little bit more about the case.”