WOOSTER, Ohio – Dawson Honey, a senior at The College of Wooster, finished as the fourth-place orator at the American Moot Court Association National Championship Tournament, held in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 12-13, while partnering with junior Brianna Schmidt and the duo advanced to the round of 32 in oral advocacy as well as placed fourth in the brief writing competition (respondent category).
Honey’s fourth-place performance came among the 160 individuals (80 teams) who qualified for the AMCA national competition. In addition to the teams being judged during preliminary oral arguments on four categories – knowledge of case law, response to questions, courtroom demeanor, and forensics, or speaking skills – each individual received a grade on his/her speaking skills. Those scores were then tabulated for the orator awards.
The moot court competitors were presented with a case that relates to U.S. Constitution law, with this year’s being a hypothetical affirmative action case, in which a university’s law school that had seen a downturn in male applicants instituted a policy that gave preferential treatment to men. A female professor at the university who applied to the law school and was rejected spoke out against the policy publicly, drawing media attention after one of her speeches went viral, and in turn, the university did not renew her contract.
Honey and Schmidt were assigned to argue on behalf of the university for the written brief. Honey tackled the 14th amendment aspect of the case, contending that the school’s new policy did not violate the equal protection clause based on past Supreme Court rulings that upheld affirmative action decisions, and Schmidt addressed the 1st amendment. She asserted that the professor’s speech was part of her official duties, thus the school restricting that speech was justifiable and it falls outside of the scope of freedom of expression.
While Honey and Schmidt didn’t repeat as national champions, they did finish among the top-four in that part of the competition for the third year in a row and were quite pleased with their finished product.
“To have all three of the briefs we’ve written for this competition finish in the top-five is … something (we) can be proud of. I think we improved upon the brief that we wrote last year,” remarked Honey, while Schmidt added “I think it’s just the nature of the competition that it changes every year, and while we didn’t get a repeat of last year’s success, we got a satisfactory amount of success in an extremely competitive field.”
An area where Honey and Schmidt improved was in oral advocacy, considered by most to be the marquee AMCA competition as participants have to effectively represent both the petitioner’s and respondent’s side of the case. They had won the oral advocacy competition at the AMCA-sanctioned Great Lakes Regional and got through the preliminaries at nationals to reach the coveted “top 32” before losing an elimination round on a narrow 2-1 decision.
For Honey, it marks the end of a terrific run with Wooster’s moot court student organization as he accomplished the rare feat of qualifying for the national tournament all four years. Of more importance, he developed life-long skills that will serve him well in what appears to be a very bright future.
“It’s taught me so much. I cannot speak enough to the value and the merits of the activity. I’ve learned not only so much about the law and how legal arguments work, but just about my own confidence in speaking and my ability to communicate arguments … even my own writing skills have greatly improved because of my participation in moot court,” said Honey, who is in the process of applying to several prestigious law schools. “I’ve had the esteemed privilege of working with a great many wonderful competitors, wonderful coaches and mentors, who have helped me along the way, and the best partner I could have asked for over the last three years.”
Schmidt echoed those thoughts. “Our career as a moot court partnership is over (so) it’s very bittersweet for me, but I have confidence next year will be another good year for the team.”
Four younger Wooster students gained valuable experience competing at this year’s AMCA nationals in the sophomore teams of Samuel Casey-Jackson Todd and Heather Hartmann-Stephanie Pokras. Also of note, junior Oria Daughtery had qualified with Hartmann, but was unable to attend due to studying abroad.
“This competition season, five of the six national qualifiers have experienced impressive growth and improvement and gained tremendous experience on which to build for next year and beyond, while Dawson leaves behind an impressive legacy for future Wooster moot court participants to live up to,” summed up John Rudisill, professor of philosophy and chair of pre-law advising at Wooster.
According to the AMCA, moot court is a method of teaching law and legal skills that requires students to analyze and argue both sides of a hypothetical legal issue using procedures modeled after those employed in state and federal appellate courts. Complete results from the 2019 national tournament are available here.