Cadets take business and legal ethics into the courtroom
Citadel Cadet John Muirhead sat outside of Courtroom 1 in downtown Charleston’s U.S. District Courthouse reading handwritten notes and reciting them back to himself. Many of his classmates did the same, shuffling nervously through paperwork, discussing strategy and making last minute preparations.
A resident of Tucker, Ga., and business major, Muirhead was about to stand before the bench inside the stately courtroom and argue Roe vs. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined that most laws against abortion violated a Constitutional right to privacy under the liberty clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Nearly an hour later, the 2004 Tucker High School graduate began his argument for the state of Texas, a position against abortion, as part of Moot Court.
“One of the most famous lines of the Constitution is ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” he said, “and the first word is ‘life.’”
Citadel School of Business Administration Professor Robert Freer ends his Business and Legal Ethics class with Moot Court where students argue a high profile historical case before a judge, their professor and their peers.
Moot Court is an extracurricular activity in many law schools around the country. Participants take part in simulated appellate court proceedings, usually to include drafting briefs and participating in oral argument.
Last year, the cadets argued the Virginia Military Institute prayer case. In that case, VMI cadets objected to prayer at mandatory cadet formation as unconstitutional. This year, six teams representing 29 cadets in Freer’s class argued Roe vs. Wade for their final exam. Three of the teams represented the state of Texas, while three represented “Jane Roe.”
Muirhead said that preparation for the presentation began several weeks before the exam, and in the days leading up to it every spare moment was spent molding his team’s argument. The cadets did have a little help. They were coached by students at the newly formed Charleston School of Law, learning how to research legal material and how to present an argument in court. Each team submitted a brief and then had 20 minutes to argue their side of the case.
Cadet Zach Franklin, a junior business major from Broken Bow, Okla., said having the opportunity to argue a case in the U.S. District Courthouse is “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
“I think it is going to be an awesome experience to do something like this,” Franklin said. before entering the courtroom.
Franklin said that not only is the case really important to American history, but the exercise “has really challenged us to think.”
The framework of the Moot Court paralleled the proceedings of the original case, but with a twist. Instead of retrying the case as it was in 1970, the students argued whether or not the case should be reheard now, more than 30 years later.
Freer and I. Richard Gershon, dean and professor of law at the Charleston School of Law, sat before the students, listening to their arguments, interjecting often to question the cadets about their positions and to force them to explain their sides.
Although the experience in the courtroom was nerve-rattling, the case offered Muirhead, Franklin and their fellow cadets a glimpse into the legal system and into an historic case.
“Before this, I wasn’t really informed on abortion or how I felt,” Muirhead said, adding that after such in-depth study, he has made up his mind.
Franklin said that he is not a proponent of abortion; however, “I do respect the laws and the legal system.”
This is the second year that Freer has held the Moot Court, and he said the performances of the students have improved since the inaugural event. He requires cadets in his class to take part in Moot Court to teach them skills they will need after they graduate and enter the working world of business.
“Our future business executive graduates and leaders of principle benefit from exercises that test their analytical, writing and oral advocacy skills in a competitive environment,” he said. “The Moot Court does that by drawing from contemporary real law situations. It particularly helps to take highly charged cases to look at them in a more professional way separated from emotionalism.
“The cadets should be proud of their accomplishment,” Freer said. “Judge Patrick Duffy (Citadel Class of 1965) said last year they had done as well as or better than many first time attorneys before his court, and this year's group did nothing to detract from that assessment.”
The Citadel, founded in 1842, is a coeducational military college in Charleston, S.C., that offers a classic military education for young men and women who seek a college experience that is intense, meaningful and academically strong. All students at The Citadel are members of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets. The Corps numbers approximately 2,000 and represents nearly every state in the union as well as more than 20 countries. While 30 percent to 40 percent of the graduates each year go into the armed services, all cadets participate in an ROTC program
The School of Business Administration was formed in 2002 from The Citadel’s Department of Business Administration, a department that has been in existence for over 50 years. Presently over 650 students are enrolled from the South Carolina Corps of Cadets and 280 are enrolled in the MBA Program.
Story written by Jamie Lee, an MBA student at The Citadel who also serves as editor of the School of Business Administration's InFormation newsletter. He lives on James Island with his wife and two boxers.