New Haven Cleans Up At Moot Court Contest

COntributed PhotosXiao Wang sent in the following write-up about the success of local students at the Marshall-Brennan National Moot Court Competition.

On April 5 and 6, four New Haven public high school students traveled to Washington, D.C. to compete in the National Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition. This competition brings together the top finishers from a number of regional competitions, held earlier this year. These students represented two local high schools—Hillhouse High School (Xavier Milling) and Co-op High School (Xavier Sottile, Rachel Nolan, and Julia Silverstein). They were coached by a number of Yale Law students, led by Program Director Alex Whatley and teachers Gilad Edelman, Marcus Curtis, and Xiao Wang.

This year’s fictitious case involved whether a student must be read his Miranda rights after tweeting out a bomb threat from his personal Twitter account. To make their case, students drew upon the constitutional principles they learned through their participation in the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project. The Project recruits law students from around the country to teach constitutional law classes at public high schools in their local area. Over twenty law schools currently participate in this Project, with this year marking Yale’s fifth year of participation. Approximately 30 Yale Law students have been involved in the Project this past year, working with nearly forty area high school students.

The New Haven students did extraordinarily well at this year’s competition—our best performance in our brief history of participation. Of the 50 students competing, three out of four Yale-coached students made it to the semi-final round: Rachel Nolan, Xavier Sottile, and Julia Silverstein. Xavier ended up winning 1st runner-up, and Julia brought home the national championship. For their final round, Julia and Xavier argued in the D.C. Federal Courthouse before a federal appellate judge, trial judge, and magistrate judge. After their arguments, Federal Circuit Judge Sharon Prost urged the competitors to consider a career in law, and mentioned that their arguments were “better than half the ones that I see in federal court.”

The students’ achievement is testament to the hard work they put in to preparing for the competition and the strong partnership that Yale Law School has forged - and continues to forge - with the New Haven Public Schools system. Indeed, before traveling to Washington, these students had a chance to practice their arguments before three Yale Law professors: Linda Greenhouse, Eugene Fidell, and Steven Duke. We are considering expanding the program into other New Haven Public Schools (currently we only teach and coach at Co-op and Hillhouse High Schools) over the next few years. Being part of this program has been an unforgettable experience for me, and I know the future - for these particular high school students and the Program in general - is bright.

Perhaps most importantly, the students remain interested in debate and constitutional law even after the competition. This week marks the students’ spring break, and I received an email earlier today from one of them. The subject line reads “PLEASE GIVE US WORK” and the body of the email reads, among other things, “We’re pretty much in the middle of a collective existential crisis. We would like to request some extra work over Spring Break so that we won’t wither away ... Like give us books to read!”

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posted by: PH on April 17, 2014  11:43am

Congratulations to all involved! Sounds like a great program and experience.  If those students want to read more excellent writing about Supreme Court level issues, they should just start reading all of Linda Greenhouse’s columns…

posted by: Brutus2011 on April 17, 2014  2:51pm


Might I suggest Yale law folks (or Quinnipia Law folks) try to transplant a public school version of an SBA (Student Bar Association—essentially students mentoring other students—doing things like helping with exam writing, mcq’s, time management, and a general lifeline to learning how to learn)

Think about it. What if Cross or Hillhouse or even a grade school could inculcate and foster this kind of positive student interaction?

Half of the battle is that our students never really learn how to learn—the other half is to want to learn….

posted by: Mary Brown on April 18, 2014  9:23am

Congratulations Hillhouse and Cross! It is so nice to see a positive article about young intelligent students in New Haven!
It is obvious that there are many students who want to learn if we just let them!

posted by: SLP on April 20, 2014  4:40pm

Great job! And by the way, it’s Hillhouse and Co-op (not Cross) students who did so well.