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Their Day in Court: Students Take Field Trip to See U.S. Supreme Court in Action

The U.S. Supreme Court is a topic of study for many Law School students, but for a small group of them this winter, it was also a classroom. Participants in “Prelude to the U.S. Supreme Court” had spent the intersession period studying the substantive material, writing research memos, and presenting their work relating to two companion cases pending before the Court: Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and Mohamad v. Rajoub. Both cases involve liability of corporations and other non-natural entities for egregious human rights violations committed abroad.

On February 28, their coursework culminated in a trip to Washington, D.C., to attend oral argument. “Students get a lot out of attending the oral argument, because they are so engaged in the material,” says Angela B. Cornell, Clinical Professor of Law, who teaches the course. “This year it was a very lively argument to attend with lots of questions from the justices.”

“Attending the oral argument was a terrific experience, because I was able to watch experienced attorneys articulate and argue the legal issues,” says Teresa Lewi ‘12. “Also, observing the nine Justices in action was such a treat, because we read so many of their opinions in law school but do not typically get to see how they arrive at their decisions. By listening to their questions, I think I was able to see how they perceive the issues in the case and how that may shape their opinions.”

In addition to researching and observing current cases, course participants gained perspectives on the Supreme Court through presentations from other Law School faculty. John H. Blume, Professor of Law and director of both Clinical, Advocacy, and Skills Programs and the Cornell Death Penalty Project, discussed arguing death penalty cases before the Court, and Stewart J. Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, related his experiences as a clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.