PUBLISHED:January 30, 2012

Sarah Boyce and Chris Ford take the Dean’s Cup

Sarah Boyce and Chris Ford convinced a three-judge panel of federal appellate judges to rule on their behalf in the final round of the 2012 Dean’s Cup Moot Court competition, arguing that a local government’s resolution condemning a decree from a Catholic cardinal violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

The 2012 classmates argued on behalf of the petitioners opposite 2L finalists Phil Aubart and Oscar Shine, who was named outstanding oralist.

The arguments were based on an appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s en banc opinion in Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights v. City & County of San Francisco.

Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit headed the panel, which included Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

The judges praised all the finalists in their post-argument remarks.

“There was an artfulness in the way you presented your arguments and in responding to the questions thrown at you that was really very unusual, even for lawyers far more experienced than you,” Rosenthal said.

The case centered on a resolution passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in response to a directive from Cardinal William Levada, a Catholic Church official who, in 2006, instructed Catholic social service organizations across the United States to stop placing children in need of adoption with same-sex couples. His directive was based on the church’s opposition to same-sex marriages. In response, the San Francisco Board passed a resolution calling the church’s position “hateful and discriminatory,” “defamatory,” and “insulting and callous.”

The case moved through the courts, until the Ninth Circuit held an en banc hearing on two points: whether the plaintiffs had standing to contest the resolution; and whether the non-binding resolution was a violation of the Establishment Clause.

"Both teams did a fantastic job advancing their positions in a difficult case, a case in which the en banc Ninth Circuit split 6-5 on the jurisdictional issue and split evenly on the merits," said Sean Andrussier '92, a senior lecturing fellow who co-directs Duke's Appellate Litigation Clinic. Andrussier developed the problem used in the tournament during the Appellate Practice class he taught in the fall. "The judges asked brilliant questions, and our students handled them well."

Boyce and Ford represented the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights and two individual plaintiffs, who were suing the San Francisco Board of Supervisors,asking the court to declare the resolution unconstitutional and have the board remove it from their website and cease publishing it.

Its strong language constituted a “stigmatic injury caused by San Francisco’s anti-Catholic resolution,” Ford argued.

Aubart and Shine represented the City and County of San Francisco, claiming that the plaintiffs never demonstrated the kind of injury required for standing, that San Francisco was condemning a discriminatory act rather than the church, and that the board was protecting the rights of gay citizens and orphaned children.

Ford said the moot court process was instructive. "Participating in moot court can only make you a stronger law student, I think; it exposes you to new areas of the law, forces you to argue positions you might initially disagree with, and the judges' questioning is the best way to learn how to think on your feet that I've experienced."

Boyce, who was also on the winning team in the 2011 Dean’s Cup finals, said the moot court process was "humbling."

"The moment just before you take that deep breath and begin addressing the judges, particularly a panel as respected as the one we were facing, is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating," Boyce said. "Once the questions started rolling in, though, and I began recognizing many of the questions Chris and I had prepared for, I was a bit more comfortable."

Andrussier reserved some praise for the students who made the tournament, and especially the final round, go smoothly. “The Moot Court Board worked exceedingly hard to make this a successful tournament. Dorie Mayne, Bryan Leitch, Elle Gilley, and Alex Bluebond did a fantastic job as coordinators.”

Initiated in 1963 by Deans E.R. Latty and J.D. Johnston, the Dean’s Cup competition is student-organized and hosted by the Moot Court Board. Students compete in pairs, initially arguing through two preliminary rounds. The eight best teams, based on their preliminary round oral argument scores, qualify for the quarterfinals, which are conducted in a round-robin format. Quarterfinalists also are required to draft a full, 30-page brief.