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New Mexico's first-ever Marshall-Brennan team competes in D.C.

April 27, 2015 - Tamara Williams

Professor Reed Benson

A transformational experience for law school coaches and high school students on New Mexico’s team

Marshall Brennan
Professor Yael Cannon (far right) with law school coaches and the high school students who competed in the Marshall-Brennan Moot Court competition in Washington, D.C.

For the students from local underserved high schools who participated in the UNM Chapter of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, learning about the Constitution, civil rights, and social justice from UNM Law students throughout the year was a positive experience in democracy and civic education.

And for the six students in the New Mexico team who competed nationally in Washington, D.C., the experience was transformational.

The high school students – Alexus Chavez, Kegan Gachupin, Thomas Kenny, Bernadette Rodriguez, Lorenzo Tosa, and Marcus Vigil – advanced from the preliminary pool of competitors at the law school’s first annual regional Marshall-Brennan Moot Court competition in October, 2014. For five months, they received extensive coaching from their three law student coaches, Luke Holmen, Carrie Cook, and Connie Tsosie, and Professor Yael Cannon, director of the UNM chapter, in order to compete in the national Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition, held March 27-29 in D.C.

Opportunity to shine

The competition was an opportunity to showcase the students’ oral advocacy skills, network, and learn about careers in the law. “With the amazing support of their three law student coaches, the students did incredibly well in the competition,” said Cannon.

One of the students made it to the semi-finals, during which she argued her case at the federal District Court in D.C. The student, who is from West Mesa High School, had never before left the Albuquerque area.

A series of firsts

Marshall Brennan
The team enjoyed a tour of the White House coordinated by alum Tracy Goodluck.

The 2015 team was the first New Mexico delegation to this competition, and two students from the Walatowa Charter High School on the Jemez Pueblo were the first ever Native American students to compete in the history of the competition.

Several of the high school students had never left New Mexico before and this trip involved the first airplane rides of their lives.

The red carpet treatment

Marshall Brennan
Government officials and former UNM Law faculty welcomed the team to Washington, D.C.

The high school students and law student coaches toured the White House, through a visit set up by alum Tracy Goodluck who is currently working on the White House Domestic Policy Council advising on Indian Affairs through her Presidential Management Fellowship with the Department of the Interior.

They also had an inspiring meeting with several Interior officials, including Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the United States Department of the Interior and UNM Law professor; Rodina Cave, Washburn’s Senior Policy Advisor and UNM’s former NALSA moot court coach; and Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor at the Dept. of Interior.

“These officials warmly welcomed our students, and we are grateful to Assistant Secretary Washburn for his time and the thoughtful dialogue he had with our law and high school students,” said Cannon.

Lastly, Kevin Shendo, former Governor and current Director of Education for the Jemez Pueblo, was in town for other business and joined the group to provide support and watch the competition.

A transformational experience

Cannon says the experience was transformational for all. The high school students have entirely new realizations about their abilities and see the world profoundly differently than before.

“I am hopeful that we will see these high school students – who are of diverse backgrounds and exceptional talent – here at the law school in several years because it is clear that they have the potential to become strong attorneys and leaders in our state,” said Cannon.

Seeking support

The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project at the UNM School of Law seeks support to raise money so that this year-round program can continue and to send another delegation of New Mexico high school competitors and law student coaches to next year’s national competition. Contributions can be made at: http://lawschool.unm.edu/marshall-brennan.php

Applications being accepted for Fall 2015 Marshall-Brennan law fellows

Applications are currently being accepted for law students to serve as Marshall-Brennan Law Fellows for Fall 2015. Interested law students should submit an application to Prof. Cannon and also register for the Fall 2015 Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy Seminar. Course information and the application can be found at: http://lawschool.unm.edu/academics/curriculum/descriptions/upper-class.php#sectM