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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Syracuse University undergraduate Moot Court team places fifth nationally

Competition focuses on U.S. Supreme Court cases

Feb. 9, 2010, by Judy Holmes

A team of two enterprising, undergraduate students in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences placed fifth out of 64 teams that competed in the American Collegiate Moot Court Association National Tournament, held recently at Florida International University.  Their triumph was no small feat, considering that the pair had no coach and SU did not have an undergraduate Moot Court program when the students embarked on an odyssey that took them to the nationals in January.

Before coming to SU, Kenneth Alter (on right in image), a sophomore political science major, twice won the Princeton University Moot Court Championship, the largest such competition for high-school students nationally, and was the top ranked high-school Moot Court attorney. During his freshman year at SU, Alter joined The College’s Mock Trial team, but his goal was to compete in Moot Court on the collegiate level.

Mock Trial competitions focus on jury trial cases, while Moot Court focuses exclusively on Constitutional questions that would be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.  With support from Associate Dean Kandice Salomone, director of The College’s iLearn Program which hosts the Mock Trial team, and from the Department of Political Science in the Maxwell School, Alter put together a plan that would enable SU to be represented in the 2009-10 Moot Court competition season. He recruited Mock Trial team member Andrew Rice, a junior dual major in political science and policy studies, and together the pair spent the next six months preparing for the American Collegiate Moot Court Association Regional Tournaments, which were held across the country in November.

“Between May and November, we read 550 pages of case law—10 times—and spent up to 15 hours a week preparing our arguments,” Alter says. “In the couple of weeks leading up to the regional competition, we probably worked up to 30 hours a week on our arguments.”
The Moot Court Society in SU’s College of Law set up practice sessions for Alter and Rice, during which law students sat as judges and offered advice on how the team could hone their presentations.  After the numbers were in, Alter and Rice learned they ranked in the top 64 out of 254 teams from across the country that qualified in the regional tournaments for the national championship tournament.  Only the top 64 teams were invited to compete in the national.

Alter and Rice spent countless hours over Winter Break preparing for the national title. Alter’s grandparents organized a panel of retired New Jersey State Supreme Court judges and litigators from a major New Jersey law firm to hear the pair’s arguments and provide feedback. They held three practice sessions.

“We totally revised one of our arguments after getting the panel’s feedback,” Alter says. “The practice sessions were invaluable.”

In May, the American Collegiate Moot Court Association will post the case for the 2010-11 season. Alter and Rice are working on a proposal to formally begin an undergraduate Moot Court team at SU and to compete in the next round of tournaments. Undergraduate students who are interested in joining their efforts should e-mail Alter