South Texas College of Law Houston

Law Students School Teenagers in Constitutional Literacy South Texas College of Law Houston Partners with YES Prep West High School for National Moot Court Competition

South Texas College of Law Houston recently hosted the state’s second annual Marshall-Brennan moot court competition, in which high school students from YES Prep West Campus argued a case involving the First and Fourth Amendments in courtrooms throughout the law school.

Judges, comprised of South Texas 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 competition, participating judges selected four student winners to progress to the national Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition in Boston, Mass.

Students Oscar Arias, Rachael Cerna, Melissa Chevez, and Kristy Pham will travel to New England in late March to compete against high school teams representing approximately 20 national Marshall-Brennan chapters, including those from Yale Law School, Cornell University 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 early last fall, when they chose to enroll in a constitutional law and juvenile justice course taught exclusively by STCL Houston students.

The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Law Clinic – part of the 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 about constitutional law principles, while simultaneously teaching high school students about their constitutional rights, civil rights, and responsibilities.

According to Professor Sharon Finegan – who established the state’s first Marshall-Brennan chapter at South Texas in 2015 – eight law students were chosen out of a pool of approximately 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 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 two teams, which each taught the high schoolers twice a week.

STCL Houston Professor Amanda Harmon Cooley took over teaching responsibilities from Finegan this spring for the second semester of the year-long Marshall-Brennan clinic.

Participating South Texas students – including Collin Craig, Shiba Crayton, Katie Haynes, Sofia Straus, Job Tennant, Ashley Vega, Stephanie Vera, and Melissa Vest – gained a mastery of constitutional law while also honing their problem-solving, public-speaking, communication, and organizational skills.

“The experience of participating in this program is extraordinary,” said STCL Houston student Melissa Vest. “The high school students are so much fun and they challenge us to truly know and understand the law we are learning at South Texas. It has been such a joy to help them understand how the Constitution applies to their lives. Watching the students participate in the moot court competition was the high point of the clinic.”

Faculty involved with the Marshall-Brennan clinic share the teaching fellows’ admiration for the program.

“The 2017 Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Law Clinic Moot Court Competition provided an opportunity for students from YES Prep West High School to participate in several rounds of oral arguments in front of esteemed judges, professors, and attorneys from the Greater Houston area,” said Cooley. “South Texas clinic fellows taught the high school students constitutional law principles with an emphasis on student rights. It has been an outstanding partnership in which the YES Prep students have developed skills in oral advocacy and legal analysis and the South Texas students have learned the value of civic education and community outreach.”