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Debating Corporate Personhood at the National Civil Rights Moot Court Competition

FEBRUARY 28, 2014—The 29th annual William E. McGee National Civil Rights Moot Court Competition was held at the Law School Feb. 20-22, with 33 teams from 25 law schools competing. The teams submitted briefs and made oral arguments in a case that explored the extent to which corporations are people—specifically, whether corporations have a First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The case chosen for this year's competition was Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Secretary of U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 724 F.3d 377 (U.S. Court of Appeals Third Circuit, 2013), in which a for-profit corporation and its shareholders sought relief from the contraceptive-coverage "mandate" of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, claiming that it violates their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

First place went to Chicago-Kent College of Law Team 1, which also won Best Brief honors. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law took second place. Brigham Young University Law School finished third, and the University of Wisconsin Law School Team 1 took fourth. Pierce Hunter of the Bowen School of Law was selected Best Oral Advocate in both the preliminary rounds and the overall competition, with Judson Burton of Brigham Young earning an honorable mention in each instance. Other teams that advanced to the quarterfinals included Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Howard University School of Law Team 2, the University of South Dakota School of Law, and Washington University in St. Louis School of Law Team 1.

More than 180 attorneys and judges volunteered to judge the briefs and oral arguments at this year's competition. To express its appreciation for their service, the Law School offered two free continuing legal and judicial education programs—Corporations: How Human Are They? Do They Have a Right to the Free Exercise of Religion? and Is Integration Still Our Goal as a Society?—both held Jan. 31.

The late William E. McGee (’80), for whom the National Civil Rights Moot Court Competition is named, was a strong advocate for human rights and devoted much of his career to representing the poor and underprivileged. He was the first African American to be appointed chief public defender in the state of Minnesota. During his career, he also served as a public defender and prosecutor for Hennepin County and as a staff attorney and then executive director at the Legal Rights Center, a nonprofit, community based organization that represents low-income people of color.

Here is the complete list of institutions that entered teams in this year's competition. As the event's host, the University of Minnesota Law School is not eligible to compete.

Brigham Young University Law School
Chicago-Kent College of Law
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law
DePaul College of Law
Hamline University School of Law
Howard University School of Law
Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center
Michigan State University College of Law
Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
South Texas College of Law
Southern University Law Center
UALR Bowen School of Law
University of Baltimore School of Law
University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
University of Iowa College of Law
University of Nevada Las Vegas William S. Boyd Sch. of Law
University of North Dakota School of Law
University of St. Thomas School of Law
University of South Dakota School of Law
University of Wisconsin Law School
Valparaiso University Law School
Washburn University School of Law
Washington University School of Law in St. Louis
Whittier Law School
William Mitchell College of Law

 
 
 

McGee Moot Court winners

The winners of First Place and Best Brief at the University of Minnesota Law School's 2013-14 McGee National Civil Rights Competition, Chicago-Kent College of Law - Team 1; left to right, Coach Stephen Pauwels, team members Nick Bartzen, Melody Gaal and Eric Shinaberger, and Coach Scott Lechowicz.