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Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition Tests Teens' Persuasive Skills

January 29, 2010

More than 40 students from seven Philadelphia high schools demonstrated their rhetorical skills and knowledge of the U.S. Constitution at the 2010 Drexel University Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition on Jan. 29.

Part of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, the daylong event featured rounds of arguments involving a fictional Fourth Amendment case, culminating in a final round judged by sitting jurists from the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

High school students had prepared for the competition by taking a class from Earle Mack School of Law students, who taught them about the American system of justice, the relevance of the Constitution in their lives and the art of skillful argument.

Judge Mark I. Bernstein, Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson and Judge John Milton Younge of the Court of Common Pleas peppered the teens with questions about the reasonableness of a search, the limits of students’ privacy rights, legal precedent and the Constitution.

“All four of you were absolutely excellent,” Judge Massiah-Jackson told the
four students who argued in the final round.

Ikea Kemp of Creative and Performing Arts High School was named the Best Oral Advocate, and Paris Capers of George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science was named Second Place Oral Advocate.

Jazzy Gardner of CAPA and Jose Nazario of Mastery Charter High School
also argued in the final round.

The top eight students from the competition will take part in the Second Annual National Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition, to be hosted at the law school on March 20 and 21st. The national competition, sponsored by the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation, will feature students from high schools in Baton Rouge, La.; Boston, Mass.; Camden, N.J.; Concord, N.H.; Louisville, Ky.; New Haven, Conn.; St. Paul, Minn.; San Francisco, Calif.; Tempe, Ariz., and Washington, D.C., as well as Philadelphia.

The topic – a principal’s search of the purse, computer and pockets of a high school student suspected of selling test answers to classmates – is very timely, said Professor Gwen Stern, who directs the Trial Advocacy Program and the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project at the Earle Mack School of Law.

“Everyone is very concerned about privacy these days, but for high school students, the subject is an especially hot button issue,” Stern said.

West Philadelphia High School teacher Matt Malone said he was thrilled that four of the six students from his school advanced to the semi-final round in the Jan. 29 competition.

“These kids really worked hard,” Malone said, adding that the Marshall-Brennan program has inspired some of his students to think about college and beyond. “The program has done a lot for our kids. They appreciate how dedicated the Drexel students are.”