On the first day of Gov 249, Survey of Constitutional Law, Professor Philip Klinkner asked my class what we were most nervous about. As we went around the room, it became clear that almost everyone was concerned about one assignment: the moot courts.
As the name implies, a moot court simulates court proceedings to give students experience arguing a Supreme Court case. The moot court is our largest assignment of the semester, involving both an oral and written argument. Divided into groups of three, each is assigned a Supreme Court case to argue before the rest of the class. Each group member presents a 10-minute argument in an attempt to persuade the class to decide in their group’s favor. Following the oral arguments, members of the class ask the presenters questions before issuing a verdict.
My group was assigned N.F.I.B. v. Sebelius, a 2012 case regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Although the case was already decided, we argued it as though the year was 2012, referencing specific historical events such as the “upcoming” election. My group acted as the respondent, meaning that we presented the side of Katherine Sebelius, former secretary of Health and Human Services. We had to make an argument to defend the constitutionality of the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion provisions in “Obamacare.” The opposing team of three presented an argument for the National Federation of Business, which sought to have the entirety of the Affordable Care Act struck down.
I presented the opening statement, while my teammates presented a rebuttal and conclusion. My job was to give the jury the facts of the case, Congress’ reasoning behind the Affordable Care Act, and legal precedents that supported our arguments. To my surprise, I had learned a lot about health care in general through the case. Prior to my research, for example, I had no idea that insurance policies are rated as either bronze, silver, or gold based on what services they cover. Both this course and assignment have taught me how interconnected historical events are to Supreme Court decisions.
By utilizing resources such as the Oral Communication Center, my group honed our delivery skills and built a cohesive argument. On the day of our presentation, we dressed up to really feel the part of an attorney. Although giving an extended presentation can be intimidating, as I stood at the lectern and declared “may it please the court,” I had complete confidence in both my group and myself. We delivered our respective sections beautifully and handled the questions with ease. Our work leading up to our presentation had paid off.
I spoke about the financial burden uninsured individuals impose on the healthcare system and why Congress had the power to regulate them under the Commerce Clause. Jack Savalli ’25, our rebuttal, brought up the legacy of the Commerce Clause, as it was used to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Rejecting the Affordable Care Act as a legitimate exercise of the Commerce Clause could lead the court down a path to overturning such seminal legislation. Taylor Scatliffe ’25 delivered our conclusion, summarizing our earlier points and countering points made by the opposing side.
The opposing team countered our arguments by asserting that Congress had overstepped its power under the Commerce Clause. They claimed that Congress was attempting to force uninsured individuals into the insurance market. They concluded by talking about state rights and how the states should be able to regulate their own constituents.
Our peers questioned us as to why health insurance was such a distinct product, different from a car or even a pineapple. My group answered by noting that individuals do not know when they will need insurance, as a trip to the emergency room is not a planned event.
Unfortunately, by the time all the questions were answered, the “jury” did not have time to vote. That being said, my group and I walked away feeling like we had not only learned an immense amount, but also enjoyed demonstrating our knowledge to our classmates.
Moot court was not so intimidating after all.