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Penn Law students reached quarter-finals in Williams Institute Moot Court Competition

May 09, 2019

Earlier this spring, Penn Law students Edward Hale L’20, Sean Bender L’21, and Alec Miller L’21 advanced to the quarter-finals in the 15th annual Williams Institute Moot Court Competition.

The Williams Institute Moot Court Competition is the only moot court in the country focusing exclusively on legal issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Participants in the competition have the opportunity to write an appellate brief on a current legal topic and argue the case before a panel of judges.

This year, more than 30 teams took part in the competition. Two Penn Law teams participated; one team was comprised of Hale, Bender, and Miller, and the other included Monica Murphy L’20, Conor Ferrall L’21, and Rebecca Wallace L’21.

“I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to go to Los Angeles to compete and work on my oral advocacy and writing skill with a really talented and supportive team,” said Hale. “Everyone worked really hard, and it was a really great experience.”

After trying out for teams in the fall, students began preparation for the competition. This year’s case focused on whether a religious organization may discriminate against an employee on the basis of her bisexuality. The case explored two legal issues: whether Title VII protects sexual orientation discrimination — an issue the Supreme Court has recently taken up by granting certiorari in Zarda v. Altitude Express and Harris Funeral Homes — and the applicability of the Title VII ministerial exception. Once the case materials were released in December, students spent time during winter and spring breaks to develop their written and oral advocacy skills with the help of seasoned attorneys and Penn Law professors. The teams practiced their arguments with Serena Mayeri, Professor of Law and History, and also with attorneys at the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

“It was a wonderful experience to participate in the Williams Institute Moot Court Competition for a second year,” said Murphy. “As this year’s student coach, I had the unique privilege to watch Rebecca, Conor, Sean, Alec, and Edward improve over the course of the year. I am incredibly proud of how well everyone performed at this year’s competition, and I look forward to hearing about the success of next year’s Williams teams.”

The competition took place in March at the UCLA School of Law.