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Principle Over Compromise at National Competition

  • 2002 6 Mar
Principle Over Compromise at National Competition

In January, eight Patrick Henry College students and President Mike Farris traveled to the University of Texas at Arlington to compete in the American Collegiate Moot Court Association’s second annual tournament (January 18-19). Thirty-eight teams made up of undergraduate students from 18 colleges and universities were tested in their ability to argue a mock case before the United States Supreme Court. The PHC team did an outstanding job on two levels.

In the preliminary rounds, PHC’s teams compiled a composite record of six wins and two losses. Two of those teams - Jane Grisham (freshman-IL) and Claire Verschoof (senior-MI); Kyle Pousson (freshman-VA) and Sarah Adell (freshman-NC) - advanced to the quarterfinals as the result of perfect records in the preliminary rounds.

Pousson and Adell advanced to the semi-final round, where they lost to the team from Howard Payne University (which eventually won the tournament), but took home the third place trophy. Adell was awarded the sixth place speaker trophy for her total speaker points, which ranked her near the top of the 79 individual competitors.

It is important to note that the vast majority of the participants in the tournament were seniors. The team that defeated Pousson and Adell were both seniors who have already achieved admittance to prestigious law schools for this coming fall. The general consensus at the tournament was that it was a remarkable achievement for two freshmen to rank third in the nation.

However, PHC’s ability to understand and argue the law with persuasion was only one of the challenges. There was a second, more subtle test that was in many ways far more important.

The assigned case had two issues. One issue concerned the law of search and seizure. The second issue concerned homosexual rights. All teams were required to switch back and forth representing each side of the case in alternating rounds. The PHC teams had no moral dilemma concerning the search and seizure issue. It was also quite acceptable for them to argue for the state’s position on the homosexual rights question. But they were also assigned to argue for the homosexual men on that same issue.

Fortunately, the mock case was written in such a way that it gave the PHC team an alternative argument that few other colleges anticipated. They were able to argue that the issue of homosexual rights had been settled by the state court, and it was a violation of the principle of federalism for the U.S. Supreme Court to review that portion of the case. They were able to present their assigned position by simply arguing for federalism and totally avoided any argument that would advance homosexual rights.

However, one judge in the semi-final round kept questioning Pousson to try to get him to argue in favor of homosexual rights. He politely stuck to his federalism argument and refused to present a theory that is morally offensive (not to mention legally invalid).

"There is little doubt that their loss in the semi-finals was, at least in part, attributable to this judge’s view that we should have argued in favor of homosexual rights," Dr. Farris said.

Even though Dr. Farris had coached the team and had encouraged them to take this position, he left the ultimate decision up to the members of the team whether they would "role play" as requested or stand for principle even in a mock trial situation. Each of the eight students steadfastly stood for principle in each of their rounds.

After the tournament, Dr. Farris told the team that it was far better to be disappointed than to be ashamed. "Although a third place finish is nothing to be ashamed of, I was far more proud of receiving that third place trophy with honor than I would have been with a first place trophy with compromise," he said.

The other four members of the team were Tim Doozan (sophomore-FL) and Danny Davis (sophomore-GA); Galen Thorp (sophomore-Netherlands Antilles [Galen’s parents are missionaries]) and Daniel Chapin (freshman-OR). Doozan and Davis won the 22-team intramural tournament at PHC. Chapin and Thorp placed second at the PHC qualifying tournament.

The tournament director expressed his amazement at the strong showing made by this new college, and predicted that other schools will have quite a challenge to face next year. "It was an incredible learning experience," said Sarah Adell. "We’re all fired up to go back next year and win."