As part of Youngstown State University’s celebration of Constitution Day, the YSU Moot Court team gathered in Tod Hall on Sept. 17 for a practice in front of a panel of judges, one of which was a sitting member of the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Moot Court is an undergraduate and law school program in which two teams, each composed of two competitors, argue the constitutionality of a fictional law in front of a panel of judges. The competition is meant to simulate the proceedings of real appellate court session.
Paul Sracic, the chair of the YSU Political and International Relations Department and the current Moot Court coach, introduced the panel of judges to the room. Presiding over the day’s practice was Judith French, a sitting member of the Supreme Court of Ohio. She was joined by Jonathan Adler, a professor of law at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and Ted Roberts, a local attorney and member of the YSU Board of Trustees.
“This is a practice session for YSU’s Moot Court team. This is an argument they are going to be making at College of Wooster in mid-November. Then they are going to be making it again, after they all qualify for Nationals, down in Miami in January. It is early on in our preparation, but this is a great example to you of how arguments take place in front of the Supreme Court because that is what we are pretending to be. We are pretending to have the Supreme Court here today,” Sracic said. “It is an outstanding panel. We expect really good questions. It is a nice, tough start to your preparation.”
Angelina Sortini, a member of the Moot Court team and a competitor on the appellant side in the practice, introduced the law that was the subject of contention.
“Proposition 4017 was adopted by the state of Olympus in 2012. The proposition mandated that all women are to submit to a trans-vaginal ultrasound, which is to be paid out of their own pockets unless qualified for a waiver, before seeking an abortion. The proposition also mandates that a script is to be read by the doctor to the woman that lists the dangers of having an abortion. It also restricts what the doctor may discuss with their patient,” Sortini said.
Using cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and lesser appellate courts to establish precedence, both teams argued whether or not the law violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which established certain citizen rights, and the First Amendment, which established freedom of speech. The panel of judges was tasked with questioning the competitors’ logic throughout their speeches.
After the competition ended, the entire panel of judges was left impressed by the team’s performance.
Justice French gave a glowing review of the team, saying they were comparable in skill to that of many law students she had seen compete.
“They are fabulous. I mean, they are really good. Obviously, I have seen lawyers come in front of us at the Ohio Supreme Court, and I have also do this sort of thing with law students, as opposed to undergraduates,” she said. “These students are very, very good, and they could compete against the law students.”
Both Roberts and Adler agreed with French’s assessment.
“If you were to ask me, ‘is this an undergraduate team or a law school team?’ I would have probably said, ‘a law school team,’” Adler said.
Roberts added that he thought these students represented the best aspects of YSU as an institution.
“These students, they reflect the best of YSU. Students are what we need to focus on, as a board and as a community, because that is why we are here — to have them succeed at what they want to do. If we keep our focus, as adults, on the interest of students succeeding, all our other decisions will be very easy,” Roberts said. “They were very well prepared. They presented themselves very well. Their speaking ability was clear and concise, and they had their arguments well in hand; they were able to respond to questions very well.”
Sracic and the competitors also were pleased with the events outcome.
“For undergraduates to do this is really, really amazing. You really have to give them credit,” Sracic said. “We have a great program; I credit Attorney Slipski, who ran this program for many years, with establishing an incredible foundation for this and instilling in students a sense of professionalism. … It is also tremendous that a sitting Ohio State Supreme Court would come here to preside over this undergraduate competition. It really speaks highly of them.”
Michael Goldthwait and Erik Glasgow, both members of the team and competitors in the day’s practice, left confident of their own and their team’s abilities.
“I was pretty nervous going into it, I mean it is not everyday you get to see an Ohio Supreme Court Justice,” Glasgow said. “After it is all said and done, I felt very confident in my ability.”
After two years of remarkable success for the team, Goldthwait expects this year to go just as well, if not better.
Jim Tressel, YSU’s president, said the value of having a State Supreme Court Justice come to YSU and advise these students was “tremendous.”
“The performance was great, but I must be honest, I only got in for the last ten minutes. So what I heard most was the guest that came in — practicing attorneys, law professors, a sitting justice — and their recommendation to our students. The value of that was tremendous. I heard the last bit of our performance, impressive, but the value of today was practicing and getting feedback,” he said. “To be with a sitting Supreme Court Justice who was from this area, tells all of them that you can become that and that is a message that is really important.”
Adler also had glowing remarks for the students.
“I thought it was really good. These students were just as good as law students that I see in court competitions and that is something they won’t be doing for several years,” Adler said. “I thought it was very good — a very complex case, very tough issues. I thought it went very well.”
Additional Reporting by Frank George