Dean’s Cup teams prepare for Feb. 21 final round

February 18, 2011Duke Law News

The 2011 Dean’s Cup Moot Court Competition wraps up on Feb. 21 when two teams present their arguments before a panel of federal appellate judges. Phil Rubin ’11 and Catherine Lawson ’12 represent the petitioner, and Sarah Boyce ’12 and James Harlow ’12 will argue on behalf of the respondent in a case involving specialty license plates and the First Amendment.

Judge Reena Raggi of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will head the panel that also includes Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C.Circuit and Judge Dennis Shedd of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The final round will get underway at 4:30 p.m. in Room 3041. It will be webcast live at

Rubin and Lawson represent Choose Life Illinois, a nonprofit organization that promotes adoption as an alternative to abortion, in their attempt to have the state produce a specialty license plate promoting an anti-abortion message. Boyce and Harlow represent Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, whose office administers the day-to-day operations of vehicle licensing and registration, including the specialty plate program.

The Illinois General Assembly refused CLI’s request for a “Choose Life” plate during its 2001-2002 session and again during its 2003-2004 session. CLI sued White in the Northern District of Illinois, claiming that the state had violated its First Amendment rights and that the specialty plate program was facially unconstitutional due to a lack of standards. CLI alleged that the state had never previously refused to approve a proposed specialty plate and that its plate was rejected because the state disagreed with its pro-life message.

The case moved through the courts, until CLI appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted its petition for certiorari on two questions: whether specialty license plates are government speech or private speech; and whether, if the plates are private speech, the State of Illinois violated CLI’s First Amendment rights when it refused to approve the “Choose Life” plate.

Initiated in 1963 by Deans E.R. Latty and J.D. Johnston, the Dean’s Cup competition is student-organized and hosted by the Moot Court Board. Preliminary rounds feature individual competition. The top sixteen competitors advance to the round-robin quarterfinals and are matched into teams of two and assigned a side of the case to brief and argue. The top team from each side advances to the finals for the chance to compete to be named the top appellate advocate at Duke Law.