Passing a Tough Test: PSU Students Compete Successfully Against Harvard Law

December 10th, 2008 by Adam

PSU freshman Samantha Spence stood calmly at the lectern in historic Ames Courtroom at Harvard Law School, preparing to speak. Samantha was nervous; after all, she was standing at the same lectern where U.S. Supreme Court justices, Presidents and world leaders have spoken. Spence was about to address a “moot court,” where she would state her case to two “judges” of the fictional Supreme Court of New Plymouth—Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and PSU Visiting Assistant Professor Eric MacLeish. Spence was contending that the Supreme Court should recognize gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, despite the fact that the supreme courts of only three states have recognized a right to gay marriage and that voters in California recently overturned one of those decisions.

“It was overwhelming, to say the least. Ames Court room is historic, and to actually meet Alan Dershowitz in person was such an experience,” Spence said. “I am so thankful to have had Professor MacLeish as a teacher, because in the second week of class, he told me I was going to debate at Harvard without even asking me!”

Spence was joined by six other PSU students; freshmen Nicole Borman, Michael Spiak, Kathryn Holtgrewe, Jess Trombley, Paige Tollner and senior Amy Lavoie, all are students in MacLeish’s “Individual and the Law” class. Representing the “other side” were three third-year Harvard Law students. Also present in Ames Courtroom were parents and friends of the PSU students.

Spence and her colleagues had spent many weeks preparing for this event; long nights at Lamson library researching cases and reviewing professional journal articles, while working in two teams to produce two, twenty page advocacy papers that were submitted to Professor Dershowitz for review three days before the argument. They also endured numerous meetings with MacLeish where he would confront them with questions to test their knowledge of the facts and relevant cases.

“I don’t think I could have been any more prepared, and that goes for my teammates as well,” said Spence. “I spent the majority of the semester researching and practicing. Just when we thought we were ready, MacLeish threw something else at us, and we were back in the books.”

As Spence delivered her argument, Dershowitz leaned over to MacLeish and whispered, “This is truly an exceptional presentation.”

The PSU and Harvard students also debated a “Right to Die” law involving terminally ill patients.

The PSU students won the right to die issue, there was a split decision on gay marriage.

This is the second time that MacLeish has taken PSU students to Harvard Law School to engage in moot court debate and he hopes to make it an annual event.

“These students worked hard to prepare themselves for this event and they held their own against some of the finest young legal minds in the country,” MacLeish said. “What I look forward to is having this same event several years from now and seeing one of my former PSU students on the Harvard side of the aisle.”

The moot court concluded with Professor Dershowitz remarking that the quality of the PSU arguments were equal to many he sees from experienced lawyers in appellate courts across the country. He also offered to write letters of recommendation on behalf of any of the students who had argued.

For more information about this release, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr., (603) 535-2775 or Bruce Lyndes