Dean's Cup

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The Dean’s Cup, initiated in 1963 by Deans E.R. Latty and J.D. Johnston, is Duke’s premier oral advocacy competition.

The Moot Court Board hosts the Dean’s Cup annually for second- and third-year students. The competition centers around a case taught in the Appellate Practice class offered every fall, and it seeks to highlight the school’s best appellate advocates.

This year, the competitors will moot Archdiocese of Washington v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 897 F.3d 314 (D.C. Cir. 2018). The Archdiocese wanted to run an ad (for the Advent/Christmas season) on the exterior of D.C.-area metro buses, as part of the Archdiocese’s campaign called “Find the Perfect Gift.”  WMATA (the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) rejected the ad under its recently-enacted guideline that prohibits ads that promote or oppose religion. At issue in the competition is whether the WMATA’s policy of refusing to accept advertisements that promote or oppose religion or reflect a religious perspective violates the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause. All rounds will be argued before the Supreme Court on Zoom.


The 2021 Dean’s Cup includes the following rounds:

  • Preliminary Rounds: Students will compete individually, and they will argue two rounds for their assigned side. Faculty and alumni will score students’ oral advocacy on fluency, command of the legal issues and the record, ability to answer questions, persuasiveness of argument, courtroom demeanor, and adherence to appropriate protocol. All students will also be required to turn in a brief in advance of the preliminary rounds.
  • Semifinals: The eight Competitors with the highest oral advocacy scores will qualify for the round-robin Semifinals. Each Competitor will argue individually four times—once against each Competitor representing the opposite side—before panels of faculty and alumni judges. Judges will score briefs according to persuasiveness, writing style, legal reasoning, logical organization, citation format, and adherence to the brief requirements. Brief scores will account for forty percent of the final ranking and oral argument scores will account for the remaining sixty percent.
  • Final Round: The highest ranking Competitors will compete in the final rounds on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Sitting judges will review the briefs, preside over oral arguments, and determine the winner.


Recent judges of the Final Round of the Dean’s Cup have included U.S. Supreme Court Justices, federal court of appeals judges, U.S. district court judges, and state supreme court justices:

U.S. Supreme Court: Justice Scalia, Justice Alito.

U.S. Courts of Appeals:Thomas Ambro (3d Cir.), Rosemary Barkett (11th Cir.), Marsha Berzon (9th Cir.), José A. Cabranes (2d Cir.), Michael Chagares (3d Cir.), R. Guy Cole, Jr. (6th Cir.), Andre Davis (4th Cir.), Allyson Kay Duncan ’75 (4th Cir.), David Ebel (10th Cir.), Emilio Garza (5th Cir.), Roger Gregory (4th Cir.), Robert Henry (10th Cir.) (ret.), Jeffrey Howard (1st Cir.), E. Grady Jolly (5th Cir.), Brett M. Kavanaugh (D.C. Cir.), Jane Kelly (8th Cir.), Carlos Lucero (10th Cir.), Blane Michael (4th Cir.), Karen Nelson Moore (6th Cir.), Diarmuid O'Scannlain (9th Cir.), Rosemary Pooler (2d Cir.), Reena Raggi (2d Cir.), Marjorie Rendell (3d Cir.), David Sentelle (D.C. Cir.), Dennis W. Shedd (4th Cir.), Sonia Sotomayor (then on the 2d Cir.), Richard C. Tallman (9th Cir.), James A. Wynn, Jr. (4th Cir.).

U.S. District Courts: Timothy Corrigan (M.D. Fla.), Catherine Eagles (M.D.N.C.), Robert Lewis Hinkle (N.D. Fla.), James P. Jones (E.D. Va.), David F. Levi (E.D. Cal.) (ret.), Kimberly J. Mueller (E.D. Cal.), William H. Pauley ’77 (S.D.N.Y.), Gene Pratter (E.D. Pa.), Lee H. Rosenthal (S.D. Tex.), Frederick Stamp (N.D.W. Va.).

State Supreme Courts: Christine M. Durham ’71 (Chief Justice, Utah Supreme Court), Henry Frye (Chief Justice, North Carolina Supreme Court) (ret.), Mark Martin (Chief Justice, North Carolina Supreme Court).