High School Students Raise the Bar

The first in-person Marshall-Brennan National Moot Court Competition & Conference since 2019 draws excitement

 Standing, left to right: Kahlila Bandele and Lukas Schwehm (both of Southern University Law Center); Amira Schroeder and Andres Rodriguez. Seated: Judges Carlos Acosta, Reggie B. Walton, and Zuberi Williams

A rainy Friday afternoon didn't stop dozens of high school students – many of whom had never been to Washington, D.C. – from being excited about visiting our nation's capital. But these scholars came to do more than tour the District. They came to show off their passion for legal oral advocacy at the first in-person Marshall-Brennan National Moot Court Competition & Conference since 2019.

Representing chapters from American University, Arizona Kingman, Arizona State University, Rutgers University, Southern University Law Center, Suffolk University, University of Colorado, University of Kentucky, University of New Mexico, University of Pittsburgh, and Yale University, the halls of American University's Washington College of Law were buzzing with excitement all weekend.

 Marshall-Brennan Scholars on DC tour

"Every year, the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project (MB) project hosts a national moot court competition where high school students, known in the program as scholars, use and apply real cases to a set of facts given to each project school," explained Camille Thompson, adjunct professor and director of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project. "The scholars then create and give oral legal arguments at their regional moot court competitions. Top scorers from each regional competition are then invited to argue at the national competition hosted at a different law school each year."

 Tayvaughn Sinclair

Following a tour that included various D.C. monuments, the Library of Congress, the United States Supreme Court, and the U.S. Capitol, the scholars, mentors, and teachers attended a reception at the Rayburn House Office Building where Tayvaughn Sinclair of Ballou High School in Washington, D.C., was presented the Thomas "Tommy" Raskin Bloom Rising Activist Award. Among other achievements, Tayvaugn was nominated for his role in founding Code Ballou, a podcast designed to highlight the voices of his classmates and share their thoughts and ideas on important issues. The Raskin Bloom family wrote that in Tayvaughn, they see an "exceptional person of talent and compassion" and the "spark of Tommy Raskin."

Lukas Schwehm and Kahlila Bandele, both of Southern University Law Center, were awarded best petitioner and best respondent, respectively, during the final round of the oral competition.

"The Marshall Brennan Project is a very necessary thing for us because, before this, I knew truly little about my constitutional rights," said Schwehm. "This was important, educational and fun. It was fun to research the case, find evidence, come up with arguments, and present them before some prestigious judges. I have made connections and friendships that I hope will be lifelong." 

"This program demystifies the stigma around lawyers being cutthroat," Bandele said. "Every lawyer here has a passion for defending real people and marginalized people, which has opened my eyes to that being possible.  I love that the program is nationwide and I can meet people from Arizona! It brings us together under our constitutional rights and us being aware of them. They have been so nice and so supportive."

First runners-up included WCL's Amira Schroeder and Andres Rodriguez. Bryan Almonte Rosario (Suffolk University) and Katrina Peterson (ASU) were second runners-up.

 Amira Schroeder

"My teachers from WCL were so awesome. It was a fantastic opportunity to argue in front of these amazing judges," said Schroeder. "This opportunity reaffirms that this is something I have a passion for. It's awesome to be able to be in high school and have this as an option."

Other semi-finalists included Brayan Quinonez (UNM), Catherine Brawner (UK), Claire Babcock (University of Colorado), Itzel Aleman (ASU), Jesse West (AZ Kingman), and Lizzie Himmelfarb (WCL).

"We are incredibly proud of the WCL Marshall-Brennan scholars and teaching fellows for their hard work preparing for this competition," said Lisa Sonia Taylor, assistant dean for the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Affinity Relations. "It was inspiring to witness high school MB scholars apply first and fourth amendment arguments to complex issues around book banning in high schools."

Judges included Associate Judge Carlos Acosta, Montgomery County Circuit Court; Reggie B. Walton, former associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; and Zuberi Williams, associate judge of the District Court of Maryland, for Montgomery County.

"Seeing high school students operate at the same level as law students and some lawyers is amazing," said Judge Williams. "WCL has done such an excellent job with the Marshall Brennen program here. The coaches, the mentors, and everyone have just been so awesome. At first, I'm always timid to ask questions, but then you can see they can handle it and move forward in a positive way. One of the students participating was a first-year student. I was playing video games at their age. These kids are learning how to change the world. I was not as vocal; I was not as well-spoken. I was not as certain about my place in society as these students are until a much later time in my life. They are ahead of me. It's a little scary but it makes me believe that we still have folks who care and are heading in the right direction. It reaffirms my belief in mankind and young people."

Created by now-Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin during his time as a professor at American University Washington College of Law, next year, the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Raskin created the program with Professor Stephen Wermiel to promote legal advocacy, and democratic and civic engagement within D.C. public schools. The nationally recognized law-related education program promotes democratic engagement, constitutional literacy, and legal advocacy by placing upper-level law students in high schools to teach yearlong courses in constitutional law and oral advocacy. Over time, the project has expanded to include law schools nationwide to promote civic engagement and show high school students that law school is an attainable goal.

Click here to view the photo library.

~Story by Hasini Jayawardena, Camille Thompson, and Keith Pierce