On April 13, 2016, The Harlan Institute and The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) held the championship round of the Fourth Annual Harlan Institute – ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition as part of the National Constitution Center’s annual Freedom Day Celebration. The Virtual Supreme Court Competition offers teams of two high school students the opportunity to research cutting-edge constitutional law, write persuasive appellate briefs, argue against other students through video chats, and try to persuade a panel of esteemed attorneys during oral argument that their side is correct. This year’s competition focused on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (II), exploring whether race conscious affirmative action is consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Kelsey Talbot and Lauren Anderson from Lake Oswego High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon, represented the petitioner, Abigail Fisher.
Michael Mireles and Tanya Reyna from IDEA Quest College Preparatory in Edinburg, Texas, represented the respondent, the University of Texas at Austin.
To reach the championship round at the National Constitution Center, these outstanding students had to compete against dozens of teams from all corners of the continental United States. Talbot and Anderson and Mireles and Reyna not only submitted the best-written appellate briefs, but also proved to be the most able oral advocates in the preliminary oral argument rounds.
Their skills were put to the test during the championship round where, during oral argument in front of a live panel of distinguished judges, they students had to respond to rapid fire and complex legal questions. The competition was judged by The Honorable Theodore McKee, Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Professor Kermit Roosevelt, University of Pennsylvania School of Law; Mr. Howard Bashman, Appellate Attorney and Founder of the How Appealing Blog; Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director, ConSource; Josh Blackman, President, Harlan Institute; Matthew Rohn, Franklin and Marshall College debate champion; and, Miriam Pierson, Swarthmore College debate champion.
The competition was fierce, but Mireles and Reyna prevailed in the end and were named the champions of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition.
University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Kermit Roosevelt, who served on the distinguished panel of judges for this year’s competition, said of the student competitors, “I was enormously impressed with the passion and knowledge the students demonstrated. Opportunities like this one—and students who take advantage of them—make me more optimistic about the future of our republic.”
Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director of ConSource, said the students “represent the very best of America. They are informed, engaged and passionate. I have no doubt that all four of our finalists will go on to achieve great things.”
The national finalists, Michael Mireles and Tanya Reyna, both juniors at IDEA Quest College Preparatory in Texas, are shining stars in their community. Mireles is the president for the Junior Statesmen of America chapter, the vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America, and a member of the Bezos Scholar Program. Reyna is the president of the Student Council, director of debate for Junior Statesmen of America, point guard for her school’s basketball team, and a regional qualify for track and cross country.
Gerrit Koepping said of his students, who placed second in this year’s national competition, “even though this is the second semester of their senior year, my students were enthusiastic to participate in the competition. They were drawn to the challenge of arguing one of the most controversial cases before the Supreme Court this year. As a teacher, I always embrace any opportunity to have my students engage in legal and philosophical issues with the outside community. This competition allows the students to contribute their own thoughts to the larger national debate.”
Kelsey Talbot said of the competition, and her impressive second place finish, “it was an amazing experience and we are beyond grateful for the chance to compete at this level.” Tanya Reyna shared a heartfelt message after being named national champion, along with her partner Michael Mireles, “This was certainly the experience of a lifetime, one that I will never forget. Being able to meet individuals … so tenacious in the subject of legal matters is an attribution my community is relatively deprived of, making presenting in front of a panel of judges as shrewd as those chosen evermore heartfelt.”
Reyna and Mireles, along with their coaches Marcos Silva and Molly Lane, will receive a free trip, including airfare and one night of hotel accommodations, to Washington, D.C. to attend the ConSource Constitution Day celebration in September 2016. Kelsey Talbot and Lauren Anderson will each receive iPad Minis.
Josh Blackman, reflecting on this year’s competition said, “The Virtual Supreme Court Competition is the crowning achievement of a four-year project started by the Harlan Institute and ConSource. We are so proud to have partnered with the National Constitution Center to host our competition on Freedom Day, and hope to make this an annual tradition.”
If you are interested in registering your students for next year’s competition, please email [email protected]laninstitute.org or [email protected] to get on the mailing list for next year’s competition, which will be announced in the fall.