When Marlene Talamantes arrived at the University of Colorado Law School on February 9, 2013, she had no idea that she would leave Boulder that afternoon as the Top Oralist of the Colorado Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition and be headed to Washington, D.C.
Talamantes was one of 41 students from underserved Colorado high schools who competed in the second Colorado Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition hosted by Colorado Law’s Byron R. White Center. Nearly 200 high school students, teachers, administrators, and parents attended the event to support the competitors as they delivered oral arguments to panels of volunteer judges and lawyers. The arguments involved the First Amendment and how it applies to student speech on a school-sponsored website.
After each competitor presented three arguments in the morning, the top six competitors were invited to present a final argument in front of a prestigious line-up of appellate judges, including Chief Justice Michael Bender of the Colorado Supreme Court, Judge Terry Fox of the Colorado Court of Appeals, and Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Talamantes, a senior representing North Valley School for Young Adults, was the first finalist to present her argument. “The judges were going really hard on me,” Talamantes said, “I think they knew that I was prepared.”
After all six finalists had presented, Talamantes was named Top Oralist of the competition. Although Talamantes was surprised by her win, Sara Milius, one of her teachers at North Valley, was not. “Marlene went into the competition ready to do well for herself,” Milius said. “She was confident and spent a lot of time preparing.”
Before participating in the White Center’s Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition, Talamantes was not sure if she would go to college. Now, Talamantes sees college as a definite part of her future and plans to pursue a career in teaching or law.
“This program gave me an idea of what I am capable of doing in my future.” Talamantes said. “It is something that changes students’ lives because for most students it is a new thing to stand up in front of lawyers and present an argument. I used to be self-conscious about how people would see me, but now I have an awareness that I can present myself well.”
The February 9 competition was just one piece of the Colorado Marshall-Brennan Project. The project sends law students into high school classes in the metro area weekly during the school year to partner with social studies teachers in teaching about the Constitution. More than 500 students in 10 different high schools have taken part in the program since it began in 2012.
For Talamantes, the highlight of the competition came when she had an opportunity to talk with Chief Justice Bender. “He gave me a few words of advice and told me that I was their top choice because of how well I knew the information,” Talamantes explained. “He was so comfortable around me that I realized I should be comfortable around him, too. I didn’t expect a judge to be like that.”
As one of the six finalists, Talamantes will have the opportunity to compete in the National Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition in Washington, D.C. in April. The White Center is raising funds to cover the students’ travel expenses. Talamantes is excited to “take her argument even further” at the national competition, and she is already looking forward to next year’s event at Colorado Law. “I am going to come back next year—probably every year—to support others,” Talamantes said. “Once you are at the competition you realize how much work students put into this. It is really cool.”