CU law professor takes high school students to Washington

For the past eight months, CU-Boulder Law School students have been working with 250 high school students at seven area high schools on building a strong foundation of civics education as part of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, a national program designed to give high school students an in-depth look at constitutional law.

Ten high school students joined Associate Professor Melissa Hart, director of the Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law at the CU Law School, on a trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in a moot court competition and explore the capital.

Eighteen of Hart’s law students worked with the 10 students to build a strong case for the question of whether a life sentence without the possibility of parole for juveniles under the age of 18 who commit felony murder violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The team made it to Washington, D.C., for the National Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition, where one student made it to the semifinals.

“This is a great first year to get our students first to nationals and then to the semifinal round,” said Jessica Smith, a second-year student at Colorado Law. “I think the best part of this experience was being able to establish a relationship with the students.”

The Colorado Law students led the high school students through the highlights of important Supreme Court cases affecting the rights and responsibilities of students and coached for the moot court competition. Coaches said watching the students build self-confidence and set goals for themselves for a legal education in the future made the program a memorable experience.

“I thought all of the students did a great job,” said Joseph Cash, a second-year student at Colorado Law. “It’s really rewarding to see students gain literacy in the Constitution more so than they are getting from the general curriculum.”

The competition also gives high school students “skills that are transferable to anything they want to do: public speaking skills, critical thinking skills, analysis, and reading and writing skills,” Cash said.

Isabella Solman, a senior at Lyons High School, was one of 24 students selected to advance to the semifinals in the moot court competition. She has met with Colorado Law students every Friday since September as part of her AP government class. “They went through the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and different court cases that apply to students, that apply to our lives,” she said.

Solman said the competition has improved her public speaking and that she also has visited with law students on the CU-Boulder campus in order to practice. And while she has long been interested in going to graduate school, “I’d definitely consider going to law school now,” she added.

In addition to Solman, the group that went to Washington consisted of two other students from Lyons High School (Sean Flynn and Marcos Rodriguez); three from Bruce Randolph High School in Denver (Cierra Conner, Alfonso Espino and Rene Garcia); two from Mapleton Early College in Thornton (Loren Tenorio and Cipriano Marrujo); and two from York International in Thornton (Navil Perez and Viviana Andazola). They were selected after a regional competition at Colorado Law.

Next year’s Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project and moot court program will include additional Colorado high schools, Hart said.