Purpose

A moot court is a role-play of an appeals court or Supreme Court hearing. The court, composed of a panel of justices, is asked to 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 a legal question (e.g., the constitutionality of a law or government action). Since moot courts are not concerned with the credibility of witnesses, they are an effective strategy for focusing student attention on the underlying principles and concepts of justice.

Street Law’s SCOTUS in the Classroom initiative is a free resource that gives educators helpful moot court tools and case materials for SCOTUS cases from the current term.  

If you are short on time, you can implement a Mini-Moot Court instead. A mini-moot court is a role-play of an appeals court or Supreme Court hearing using small student groups of three, instead of the full complement of justices and attorneys commonly used in a full moot court. Mini-moots generally take less class time to prepare and conduct. Download a guide from our Free Resource Library.

Procedures

The following procedures are a slight adaptation of appellate procedures. The changes make the moot court an appropriate educational activity for high school students.

Moot court preparation procedures:

  1. Select a case that raises an issue appropriate for your class goals.
  2. Read, review, and clarify the facts of the case. Direct pairs of students ask each other the following questions:
    • What happened in this case?
    • Who are the people/organizations/companies involved?
    • How did the lower court rule on this case?
    • Who is the petitioner, the respondent? (Petitioner or Appellant is the person, organization, or company who appeals the lower court decision to a higher court; the Respondent or Appellee is the one who argues that the lower court decision was correct.)
  3. Ask the class to identify the issue(s) involved in the case. An issue should be posed in the form of a question.
  4. Select an odd number of students (7 or 9) to be the justices of the court.
  5. Divide the remaining students into two teams. One team will represent the person or group appealing the lower court decision (the petitioner or appellant). The other team will represent the party that won in the lower court (the respondent or appellee).
  6. To boost participation, consider these options:
    • Conduct the moot court simultaneously in many small groups (see pro-se courts)
    • Assign some students to be journalists covering the case
    • Assign some students to represent interest groups. They can prepare amicus curiae briefs ("friend of the court" written statements) to express their views about how the justices should decide the case before them.  
  7. Each team of litigants should meet to prepare arguments for its side of the case. The team should select one or two students to present the arguments to the court. When discussing the arguments, students should consider:
    • What does each side (party) want?
    • What are the arguments in favor of and against each side?
    • Which arguments are the most persuasive? Why?
    • What are the legal precedents and how do they influence this case?
    • What might be the consequences of each possible decision? To each side? To society?
    • Are there any alternatives besides what each side is demanding?
  8. Students should not dispute the facts in the case—those have been established at the trial.
  9. Arguments do not need to be rooted in legal technicalities. Any argument that is persuasive from a philosophical, theoretical, conceptual or practical standpoint can be made.
  10. The justices should meet to discuss the issue involved and any case precedents. They should prepare at least five questions for each side that they need answered in order to reach a decision. (They may also consider the questions above when weighing the arguments). The justices should select one student to serve as Chief Justice. The Chief Justice will preside over the hearing.

Moot court procedures:

  1. Seat the justices at the front of the room. The attorneys for each side should sit on opposite sides of the room facing the justices. The other team members should sit behind their respective attorneys.
  2. The Chief Justice should ask each side to present its arguments in the following order. The justices may ask questions at any time:
      • Petitioner’s argument
      • Respondent’s argument
      • Petitioner’s rebuttal
      • Respondent’s rebuttal
    • Each side should have three to five minutes for its initial argument and two minutes for rebuttal. (This time may need to be lengthened if the justices ask a lot of questions. You may need to adjust the time for students, particularly if they are new to moot courts.)
    • During and/or after each presentation, the justices can and should 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. (This time is included in the total time allowed for the presentation.)
  3. After all arguments have been presented, the justices should organize into a circle to deliberate on a decision. 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.
  4. After the arguments have concluded, each justice should state his or her decision and the reasons for it. The final decision will reflect the votes of the majority of justices. Note: If time permits, before any decisions are announced, the justices should deliberate by discussing the merits of the arguments and then issue a decision and, possibly, dissenting opinions.  
  5. Conclude with a class discussion of the decision and the proceedings. If you are using an actual case, share the court’s decision with the students after the student court has reached a decision. In the event the students’ decision and the court’s decision are different, it is helpful for the students to understand the reasoning of any dissenting opinions as well as the majority. The students are not wrong, but the majority of the real court was influenced by different compelling arguments. Ask students to evaluate the reasoning the court used in the majority and dissenting opinions and compare these to their reasoning. Continue to debrief the activity by discussing the significance of the decision for both sides and for society.