Marshall-Brennan Clinic prepares high schoolers for national moot court competition
This spring, South Texas College of Law Houston hosted the state’s first Marshall-Brennan moot court competition, in which more than 30 high school students from the West and North Central campuses of Yes Prep argued a fictional First Amendment case in courtrooms throughout the Law School.
Judges, comprised of South Texas Law faculty, practitioners, judges, students, and alumni, heard the students’ arguments and provided them with feedback on ways to improve their cases. At the conclusion of the two-day event, participating judges selected four student winners – two from each Yes Prep campus – to progress to the national Marshall-Brennan moot court competition in Washington, D.C.
Orren Dinwiddie and Felix Espino from Yes Prep West and Claudio Macias and Daniela Barrientos from Yes Prep North Central visited the nation’s capital in April to compete against high school teams representing approximately 20 national Marshall-Brennan chapters, including those from Yale Law School, William & Mary Law School, and American University Washington College of Law, where the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Program began.
The young students’ journey to this national stage began in early fall 2015 when they chose to enroll in a course on constitutional law and juvenile justice, taught exclusively by South Texas Law students.
“The importance of teaching young students constitutional literacy is based on the premise that these high school students will forever benefit from understanding the rights and responsibilities they hold under the U.S. Constitution,” said Professor Sharon Finegan. “Marry that with the belief that law students are an untapped resource whose own skills can be developed by teaching others within their community, and you have an incredible opportunity for all involved.”
The Marshall-Brennan Clinic—part of the noteworthy Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics at South Texas College of Law Houston—is designed to tap into those law student resources and develop students’ knowledge of constitutional law principles, while simultaneously teaching high school students about their constitutional rights, civil rights, and responsibilities.
According to Professor Finegan—who established the state’s first Marshall-Brennan chapter at South Texas Law in 2015—nine law students were chosen out of a pool of 20 applicants based on their experience, enthusiasm, and dedication to making the significant time commitment required to serve as Marshall-Brennan teaching fellows.
Further mining the resources of the legal community, the clinic was created in partnership with Tommer Yoked, a former Teach for America participant and associate at the Sidley Austin law firm in Houston. Sidley Austin sponsored the program and purchased all textbooks for the high school students.
Beginning last August, South Texas Law students attended Finegan and Yoked’s weekly constitutional law seminar, where they learned key principles and developed pedagogical skills. The teaching fellows then divided into four teams, with each team teaching two days a week.
Participating South Texas Law students – including Melissa Binstock, Megan Bosma, Domonique Broadus, Aleyda Cantu, Lu Carlson, Ryan Cunningham, Maria Ivañez, Ashleigh Musselman, and Lauren Van Ness – gained a mastery of constitutional law while also honing their problem-solving, public-speaking, communication, and organizational skills.
“The Yes Prep students really challenge us to reconsider what we’ve learned and to look objectively at the cases being presented in the media and through current events,” said Dominique Broadus, a Marshall-Brennan teaching fellow. “They ask so many great questions, and we don’t always have the answers on the spot. But we have a responsibility to seek out those answers, and that makes us better law students.”
The high school students equally benefit from the program.
“Our law school teachers have a great connection with us and they make learning our constitutional rights fun,” said Devin Olvera, 19, a senior at Yes Prep North Central. “They understand the best way to teach us because they know how they learned best. I discovered that no matter how good your argument is, confidence is key. That will help me meet other challenges in the future.”