PUBLISHED:April 10, 2023

Meghna Melkote ’25 prevails in Hardt Cup competition


Finalists Melkote and Justin Fiszer ’25 argued a case involving a government official who blocked constituents on her Twitter account

Meghna Melkote '25 and Judges McMillian, Eagles, and Richardson Meghna Melkote '25 and Judges McMillian, Eagles, and Richardson

Meghna Melkote ’25 prevailed over runner-up Justin Fiszer ’25 in the 59th annual Hardt Cup championship round held Friday afternoon.

Fiszer and Melkote argued an appeal of Campbell v. Reisch, 986 F.3d 822 (8th Cir. 2021), a First Amendment case involving the blocking of constituents on Twitter by a state representative, before a three-judge Supreme Court panel of Judge Catherine Eagles of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carla Wong McMillian T’95, and Judge Julius Richardson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

“When I realized y’all were first-year students I was so impressed,” Eagles said, delivering the ruling for Melkote. “You were very well-prepared. You had your case law at your fingertips.”

Eagles called Melkote “very engaged, very responsive to the questions” and complimented Fiszer for not becoming rattled by a hot bench: “They were not really buying what you were saying but you did not allow the judges to bully you into conceding more than you should.”

Taking the stand first, Fiszer asked the court to reverse the appellate court’s decision on behalf of petitioner Mike Campbell, who was blocked on Twitter by Cheri Reisch, a representative for the 44th District in the Missouri House of Representatives.

Fiszer argued that when she blocked Campbell, Reisch was operating under color of law pursuant to Title 42 U.S. Code Section 1983, and had engaged in illicit viewpoint discrimination within a designated public forum. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Assn., 531 U.S. 288 (2001), Fiszer argued that to be considered under color of law, “actions need only be “fairly attributable to the state, which is a matter of normative judgement. This is a holistic test.”

Richardson challenged the point, stating that the representative's actions would need to be part of her official duties in order to be "fairly attributable" to the state, and opened a line of questions on whether her Twitter activities were part of her official duties. McMillian added that Reisch had first opened the account as part of her election campaign.

Eagles queried Fiszer on his second argument. “Why does she have to give someone who disagrees with her a public forum when they can disagree with her in other ways?” Eagles asked

“Your Honor, it’s exactly because Reisch opened up a designated public forum that she is obligated to let people speak,” Fiszer replied. “Viewpoint discrimination is when a government official takes actions impermissibly motivated by a desire to express that particular point of view.”

Richardson drew laughs when he questioned whether any Twitter account opened by a public official, “even if it’s just to tweet about cats,” qualifies as a public forum.

“Is my cat Twitter a public forum? Do you agree that my cat Twitter is a public forum?” he pressed Fiszer.

“Your Honor, it depends on if you are doing something to limit the interactivity of that particular Twitter account,” he responded, arguing that Reisch had been perfectly content to allow constituents to interact with her Twitter account until she didn’t like what they said and blocked Campbell and 123 other people.

Taking the stand for the respondent, Melkote asked the Court to affirm the Eighth Circuit’s decision.

“This case is about a clear line between promoting free speech and protecting unwilling listeners,” Melkote said. “The right to speak is not the right to be heard.”

Reisch’s Twitter account was started during her campaign, and after she took office it was never expressly designated as a tool used to perform an actual or apparent government duty, Melkote argued. 

McMillian asked why, if Reisch was using the page to discuss her work in the legislature, rather than her personal interests, it would not be considered a public forum.

“I can understand that if she had a cat Twitter, maybe that’s not part of her public duties," McMillian said. "She is talking about what she does as a legislator, what she does for her constituents. She allows people to respond, reply, like, retweet. Why is that not a designated public forum, at least for the things that she’s putting out there?”

“Your Honor, it’s not a designated public forum because there was never an invitation for people to contribute. Allowing people to contribute and not stopping them is not the test as to what a public forum is,” Melkote replied.

“She’s inviting it, isn’t she, by putting it out there on Twitter in a format that lets people respond?” Eagles asked.

“No, Your Honor, because it doesn’t require her to take affirmative action to close it off. It requires her to take affirmative action to designate it as such,” Melkote said.

Returning from deliberations, the judges congratulated Fiszer and Melkote. McMillian, a Duke graduate, said she enjoyed being back on campus and seeing the quality of the law students.

“I know we were a hot bench and you probably didn’t expect to get a cat Twitter question,” McMillian said to Fiszer. “Congratulations on keeping on point and trying to work through that.”

Said Richardson: “When you come and see advocates like you two, it makes you appreciate how quickly you could step in and very easily perform at the top of the field in our court."

“I didn’t plan to ask the cat question,” he added.

Melkote, from Moosic, Pennsylvania, graduated from the University of Richmond, where she studied philosophy, political science, and music. She is involved in the Duke Law Music Association and the South Asian Law Student Association. 

Fiszer, from Randolph, New Jersey, graduated from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2019. Prior to entering law school, Fiszer worked as a paralegal both at a big law firm and a credit firm. He is president of OutLaw and a 1L representative of the Jewish Law Student Association. 

The Hardt Cup is an annual competition for first-year students established by the Duke Law class of 1964 in honor of A. Lee Hardt, a classmate who died after completing his first year. The tournament is organized by the Duke Law Moot Court Board each spring and begins with a first round that is a mandatory component of the 1L Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing curriculum.

The Moot Court Board president is Krystal Dillon ’23. Hardt Cup coordinators were Josh Britt ’24, Gina Campanelli ’24, Kylee Groft ’24, and AJ Peterson ’24, who was a finalist in last year’s Hardt Cup competition. Twenty-six competitors this year have accepted invitations to join the Moot Court Board.