STCL Houston Law Students Educate High Schoolers on Constitutional Literacy in Only Program of Its Kind in Texas
South Texas College of Law Houston (STCL Houston) recently hosted the state’s fifth-annual Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition, in which high school students from YES Prep West Campus argued a fictional case involving the First and Fifth Amendments in courtrooms throughout the law school.
This is the only competition of its kind in Texas.
Competition judges, comprised of STCL Houston faculty, deans, practitioners, judges, students, and alumni, heard the high school students’ arguments and provided them with feedback on ways to improve their cases.
The Honorable Ruby Kless Sondock, the first female justice to serve on the Texas Supreme Court; and the Honorable Gregg Costa, judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, judged the final round and encouraged the students following the competition.
The top four competition winners — Cindy Borja, Monserrat Espinoza, Kathleen Martinez, and Daniel Tejada — will progress to the national Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition in Philadelphia in March. These students will compete against high school teams from approximately 20 national Marshall-Brennan chapters, including those coached by students 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 at their high school.
“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 Sharon Finegan, professor of law at STCL Houston. “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 Constitutional Law Clinic — part of the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics at STCL 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 Finegan, who established Texas’ first — and only — Marshall-Brennan chapter at STCL Houston in 2015, eight law students were chosen out of a pool of approximately 15 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 partner at the Sidley law firm in Houston. Sidley sponsored the program and purchased all textbooks for the high school students.
Beginning last August, STCL Houston students attended Finegan’s and Yoked’s weekly constitutional law seminar, where they learned key principles and developed pedagogical skills. The teaching fellows then divided into two teams, each of which taught the high schoolers twice a week.
Participating South Texas College of Law Houston students — Dani Buchanan, Sabrina Creekmore, Emiliano Farciert, Randi Faust, Courtney Holliday, Ariana Lewis, Krysten Maddox, and Alia Sheppard — gained a mastery of constitutional law while also honing their problem-solving, public-speaking, communication, and organizational skills.
“This program was exceptionally transformative for the high school students who participated,” said Lewis, a second-year law student and Marshall-Brennan teaching fellow at STCL Houston. “Students went from struggling to identify the material facts in a case to composing sound and persuasive arguments as advocates. The students exhibited tremendous growth and navigated complex constitutional issues with poise, grace, and commitment to their work. The Marshall-Brennan Clinic is a unique opportunity for students to not only improve their constitutional literacy, but also find encouragement that they can achieve anything they desire with a little bit of hard work.”
South Texas College of Law Houston faculty members and alumni who judged the students’ oral arguments included Josh Blackman, Austin Brayley, Vanessa Browne-Barbour, Catherine Greene Burnett, Carlos Calderon, Jean Paul Cedillo, Amanda Cooley, Yong Eoh, Melissa Ephron, Ted Field, Derek Fincham, Niloufar Hafizi, Richard Houghton, Helen Jenkins, Randy Kelso, Eric Kwartler, Kyle Ludovice, Clayton Masterson, Olga Moya, Jean Powers, Geoffrey Riddle, Cherie Taylor, and Melissa Vest.