Constitutional Law Students Present Oral Arguments in Front of Real Judges

By schwartzsa | December 21, 2011

Students in Adjunct Professor of Political Science and Judge Christopher Cerski’s American Constitutional Law class, recently participated in an Oral Argument Competition on the topic of the Constitutionality of a fundamental right to education. This is the second year the competition was held.

“The Constitutional Law Oral Argument Exercise and Competition is part of my American Constitutional Law class in the Historical and Political Studies Department. This is the second year the exercise/competition was held,” says Cerski.

“In the 1970s, the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. School District Independent School District held that the Constitution does not provide a fundamental right to education. The Court also held the poor were not a suspect class pursuant to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. In 2006, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a statute directing the Department of Education to complete a ‘Costing Out Survey’ analyzing the amount of funding necessary for each school district to achieve minimum state requirements. The Costing Out Survey studied each school district’s funding per pupil as well as socioeconomic factors affecting the cost of education and the performance of each student. The study indicated a significant disparity among school districts, especially those in poorer economic areas.

“The Constitutional Law Class assumed that several interested parties in Pennsylvania sued the Commonwealth and alleged violations of the United States Constitution,” says Cerski. “The fictional case was granted review by the United States Supreme, which meant that the Court may overturn Rodriguez. The students argued whether the United States Constitution provides a fundamental right to education and whether the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th should include children or poor children as a protected class. Each student argued and answered numerous questions from the panel of judges.

The judges scored each student and the following students were recognized for their outstanding oral advocacy:

  • Alyssa Gross—Best Oral Argument (first place)
  • Christopher Finney—Best Oral Argument (first place)
  • Benjamin Honey—Superior Oral Argument (second place)

Their arguments were given before a panel of Judges from Montgomery County District Court, which included Cerski,  Jay Friedenberg, Margaret Hunsicker, Karen Zucker, and Elizabeth McHugh. There were three different student group presentations. The following students also presented arguments: Kyna Lynn Beckner, Chelsea C. Cortez, Travis Drolet, Kate Lynn Dufner, Alexander Elwood Knell, Emily M. Kosmuch, Jeremy P. Matchett, Joseph W. Neill, Yevgenly M. Olkhov, Ryan Patrick Pryne, Amanda Rockwood, Bayne Kendall Salmon, Jessica P. Singer, Benjamin Edward Smith and Ashling C. Suppan. To prepare for the competition, students traveled with Judge Cerski to the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., where they sat in on actual oral arguments presented before the Justices, on Nov. 28. They also visited  Congress and the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution firsthand.

Read more about the experience of taking American Constitutional Law in Honey’s blog.