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Using the Law for What Matters: Education and Empowerment

April 16, 2019 - Andrew Pavlides

Photo of Washington DC

It all started in August 2018: thirteen fellows from the University of New Mexico School of Law’s Chapter of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project descended on local public high schools that serve underrepresented youth with two goals in mind: teach weekly classes centered on civic education and constitutional rights, and train students to argue a moot court problem centered on the First and Fourth Amendments. By November, twenty-eight of these high school students poured into the law school with family, friends, and classroom teachers to compete against one another in the regional moot court competition. After four rounds of arguments before law professors, local judges, and attorneys, four finalists were selected to represent UNM’s chapter at the national competition in Washington, DC: Astrea Baca of DATA High School, and Andy Padilla, Naomi Perez and José Ronquillo Tena, each of South Valley Academy.

The UNM Delegation visits the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Andrew Pavlides
The UNM Delegation visits the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Andrew Pavlides

Near the end of January, these four students returned to the law school on weekday evenings, filled with excitement, ideas on how to best argue the case, and plenty of questions. Project Director Eduardo García and fellows Jared Armijo, Dominique Oliver, and Andrew Pavlides served as coaches for the finalists. For about two hours once to twice a week, the students and coaches engaged in caselaw review, argument strategy, fact analysis, and quite a few laughs. Local practitioners and members of the law school faculty volunteered their time to act as guest judges in practice argument rounds designed to mirror what the students could expect when they arrived in Washington, DC in early April.

UNM Delegation at the national competition in D.C. Photo by Andrew Pavlides
UNM Delegation at the national competition in D.C. Photo by Andrew Pavlides

On April 4th, the coaches and students landed in Washington, DC. The first full day in the nation’s capital was spent touring the Supreme Court Building, the Library of Congress, the Capitol Rotunda, and the National Mall. After a long day of walking, it was time for the students to rest up: each of them had three rounds of arguments beginning the following morning. Fifteen chapters of the Marshall-Brennan Project were represented at the competition, which was held at American University Washington College of Law. Coaches took turns watching the students argue against other high school students from across the country. By the end of the day, the coaches and students alike were very proud, not only because each student made tremendous strides and delivered strong arguments, but because our very own Naomi Perez advanced to the semi-finals.

After a night of final preparations, the whole team returned to American University the follow morning to watch Naomi deliver her final argument. The remainder of the day was spent touring the National Portrait Gallery. In addition to the memories made as tourists in the Washington, DC, each of these students walked away embodying the goals of the Marshall-Brennan Project: a deeper knowledge of constitutional rights, enhanced argument skills, a stronger sense of self-confidence, and the power to become engaged citizens.