A moot court is patterned on an appeals court or Supreme Court hearing. The court, composed of a panel of judges or justices, must rule on a lower court’s decision. No witnesses are called, nor are the basic facts in a case disputed. Arguments are prepared and presented on the application of a law, the constitutionality of a law, or the fairness of the lower court decision. In many ways, the moot court is like a debate, as each side presents arguments for the consideration of judges. Since moot courts are not concerned with the credibility of witnesses, they are an effective strategy for focusing participant attention on the underlying principles and concepts of justice.
The goal for presenting a moot court is to develop participants’ skills for taking a position and defending it with rational arguments.
- Read the case summary found in the lesson. (Moot court procedures applied to hypothetical situations can also be used to explore almost any issue raised in classroom discussion.)
- Ask the class to identify the issue involved in the case.
- Select an odd number of participants to be the justices of the court.
- Divide the remaining participants into two teams. One team will represent the person or group appealing the lower court decision (the petitioner). The other team will represent the side that won in the lower court (the respondent).
- Each team should meet to prepare arguments for its side of the case. The team should select one or two participants to present the arguments.
- The judges/justices should meet to discuss the issue involved and any questions they feel need to be answered in order to reach a decision. The judges/justices should select one participant to serve as chief judge/justice. The chief judge/justice will preside over the hearing by calling each side to present its case and recognizing other judges/justices to ask questions.
- All the details presented in the fact situation are accurate and constitute the record of the trial court. Teams may not argue the accuracy of these facts.
- Seat the judges/justices at the front of the room. The attorneys for each side should sit on opposite sides of the room facing the judges/justices. The other team members should sit behind their respective attorneys.
- Each side should have five to ten minutes for initial arguments and five minutes for rebuttal.
- The chief judge/justice should ask each side to present its arguments in the following order:
- Petitioner’s initial presentation
- Respondent’s initial presentation
- Petitioner’s rebuttal
- Respondent’s rebuttal
- During and/or after each presentation, the judges/justices should actively question the attorney in an effort to clarify the arguments. Attorneys may ask for time to consult with other members of their team before answering questions.
- After all arguments have been presented, the judges/justices should organize into a circle to deliberate. The rest of the class can sit around the outside of the circle and listen, but they cannot talk or interrupt the deliberations of the court.
- In the circle, the judges/justices discuss all of the arguments and make a decision by a majority vote. Each judge/justice should give reasons for his or her decision.
- Conclude with a class discussion of the decision and the proceedings.
- If you are using an actual case, you can share the court’s decision with the participants after the participant court has reached a decision.