ND Law Moot Court Board hosts seventh annual religious freedom tournament

Author: Arienne Calingo

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The Notre Dame Law School Moot Court Board hosted the seventh annual Notre Dame National Appellate Advocacy Tournament for Religious Freedom on October 28-30 in the Patrick F. McCartan Courtroom.

A total of 14 moot court teams from 12 law schools participated in this year’s competition, including Ave Maria School of Law, Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School, Cardozo School of Law, Chapman University Fowler School of Law, George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, George Washington University Law School, Liberty University School of Law, Michigan State University College of Law, University of North Dakota School of Law, Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law, South Texas College of Law Houston, and University of St. Thomas Law School. The competition is entirely student-run by members of the Notre Dame Law Moot Court Board and sponsored by the Law School’s Program on Church, State & Society

The Religious Freedom Tournament takes place every fall and features moot court teams from law schools across the country. The objective of the tournament is to identify and carefully analyze important issues in religious freedom by posing challenging questions as they pertain to the First Amendment. The student participants write briefs and orally argue and defend their client’s positions on those issues before a mock Supreme Court of the United States. 

Notre Dame Law School hosted the inaugural Religious Freedom Tournament in 2016. It was established to bring together competitors, scholars, and practitioners from across the country to advance and encourage legal discourse on a religious freedom topic. This year, the judges of the final round were Judge Ryan D. Nelson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Judge David R. Stras of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The judges of the semifinal round were Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Judge Stephen R. Clark of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Bradley Girard of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Judge Wendy Vitter of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and Lori Windham of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The team of Raymond Yang, Daniel Thetford, and Stuart Spooner from George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School took first place, and the team of Jason Long and Anthony Licata from the George Washington University Law School placed second.

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Ethan Carlson and Tommy Walsh from Liberty University School of Law won best brief, and their brief averaged 88 out of 100 possible points through multiple rounds of grading. Along with their team placing second overall at the tournament, Long and Licata from the George Washington University Law School won second place brief; their brief averaged 83.5 through multiple rounds of grading. Phillip Allevato and Mikaela Foster from Pepperdine Caruso School of Law were recognized as the co-best preliminary round oralists. Both oralists averaged between 87 to 88 out of 100 possible points during the preliminary rounds.

Leo O’Malley, a third-year student at Notre Dame Law School, was the director of the tournament this year. “For me, there were so many really amazing moments during the weekend that it is hard to pick just one,” O’Malley said. “I would say that both the semifinal and final rounds were definite highlights. The panels of judges and litigators were absolutely outstanding questioners. The tournament prompt was extraordinarily difficult as it probed numerous unsettled areas of Free Exercise and Establishment Clause jurisprudence. It was incredibly rewarding to see the panels and oralists wade through these issues with care and nuance. The competitors really rose to the challenge.”

For more information on the tournament, you can visit Notre Dame Law School’s Moot Court webpage.