2009 Jacob Burns Van Vleck Finals

Davis and Helisek Win Van Vleck Finals Before Justice Scalia, Judge Berzon, and Judge Sutton

January 22, 2009 -- Third-year students Christina Davis and Julian Helisek took the top prize in the final round of the 59th annual Jacob Burns Van Vleck Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition, held in front of a packed crowd in GW’s Lisner Auditorium. Davis and Helisek and their competitors, 2L Lucas Hanback and 3L Matthew Yoeli, each earned compliments and criticism on their brief writing and oral advocacy skills from a distinguished panel of judges: Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Marsha Berzon of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

In addition to the accolades on the oral argument, Justice Scalia also praised the authors of the case, 3L Michael Rhoads and 2Ls Rachel Mandell-Rice and Sara Brauner, on what he called a “well-balanced, well-written problem.” The fictitious case of Melissa Kelly v. The United States of America concerned Fourth Amendment rights and the prohibition of the exercise of preemptory challenges based on religious affiliation raised in the Supreme Court’s decision in Baston v. Kentucky. Rhoads, Mandell-Rice, and Brauner wrote the problem under the supervision of Professors Amanda Tyler and Orin Kerr, who are honored in the case under the names “Christina Tyler, Juror Number 39” and “Special Agent Erwin Kirby.”

The largest and longest-running upper-level competition conducted by GW Law’s Moot Court Board, Jacob Burns Van Vleck consistently draws high levels of participation, with a record number of 124 competitors participating this academic year. The competitors put in hundreds of hours of research, brief writing, and oral argument practice, and the field narrowed through preliminary, quarterfinal, and semifinal rounds; the semifinals were argued before panels including Judges William Pauley II of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and Roger Titus of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Several Supreme Court justices have judged the final round of the Jacob Burns Van Vleck Competition over the years, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., and Justice Samuel A. Alito.

In his welcoming remarks, Dean Frederick M. Lawrence reminded the audience, the competitors, and the judges the driving purpose behind oral advocacy competitions and the study and practice of law, which is to foster “the ability to analyze and persuade, which is the essence of what lawyers do, in order to utilize words and the force of logic, not the force of arms.”

Eloquence and logic were displayed by each competitor. The panel of judges named Davis Best Brief in the final round, Helisek as Best Oralist, and Davis and Helisek as Best Team. During his closing remarks, Judge Sutton demonstrated how impressed he was with each of the students when he gave them the phone number to his clerks' office so the competitors could be put on a case in his court.

Learn more about Jacob Burns and his fearless advocacy of the principle of "equal justice under the law."

- Laura Ewald


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