Arguing for the sake of it has its place in at least one class at Lyons Township High School, and the teacher doesn’t even mind.
Ten students taking constitutional law had the chance to make their best case March 7 in a Supreme Court mock trial at Chicago-Kent College of Law with students from Hinsdale Central and 11 other Chicago area high schools.
“I was interested in law before, and now I’m even more interested,” said Western Springs junior Mackenzie Castle. “I liked hearing the different viewpoints from students with different backgrounds.”
Students applied for the program by choosing and researching a side to argue in the Town of Greece v. Galloway case argued before the Supreme Court Nov. 6. The First Amendment issue involved whether prayer should be allowed to continue before a community’s public meetings in upstate New York.
The You(th) Decide forum was sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, Chicago-Kent College of Law and Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Constitutional law teacher Mica Vahl said her students prepared a response to one of three questions posed by the justices to attorneys during the November hearing. The court hasn’t yet issued a ruling.
“We do a mock trial in the constitutional law course, one per semester,” Vahl said. “The Supreme Court proceedings are largely different than a trial proceeding.”
A Supreme Court case involves a 30-minute oral argument presented by one attorney for each side, after justices have studied written arguments and case law cited for each position, she said.
During the forum, students heard a presentation and worked in groups to apply the criteria on which cases are selected. Annually, the court receives about 8,000 requests for appeal, but only 70 to 80 are granted writs of certiorari to be heard.
Based on which question they selected, students were divided into groups to present their responses as oral arguments, said social studies teacher Dave Kruiswyk, who accompanied the students.
“Once they argued the two sides, then they changed hats and assumed the roles of justices to render a decision,” Kruiswyk said. “They took a vote prior to their discussions and one afterward.”
Even after listening to other positions argued, most students stuck with their initial position, participants said. LT students, too, remained split on the issue.
Senior Jakub Dziza from Brookfield and junior Becky Pennington of Countryside said the town of Greece should be allowed to continue prayer before meetings.
“There’s so much tradition involved. Erasing their values would be crazy,” Dziza said.
But Castle and Countryside senior Princess White favored a strict separation of church and state.
“There’s no such thing as nonsectarian prayer,” White said.
Students said they felt well prepared to take part in the forum, both from the constitutional law class and other LT opportunities, such as arguing positions in Model United Nations competitions.
“Each student has the same amount of information and research,” White said. “It was how you made your arguments and used it to your advantage.”