Last Friday, the library at Langley High School looked a little different than usual. At 7:20 a.m., a crowd packed in and filled up seats that had been arranged to form a mock courtroom, and students in suits and business attire milled around, stepping over extension cords and doing their best to ignore the numerous cameras pointed their way.
Deemed "the finest educational program of its kind" by William Suter, Clerk of the United States Supreme Court, the school's annual "Case Day" is an event that encompasses the efforts of Langley's AP Government class to illustrate the inner workings of the United States Supreme Court. Students select a case from the present docket of the nation's highest court and research and argue the case before a panel of judges. In addition, students participate in a variety of monitored debates on a variety of constitutional issues.
"Case Day has been going on for 14 years and I hope it that it will go on for another 14," said Jim Catlette, AP Government teacher at Langley.
This year's event opened up with a debate between Catlette and local resident Kenneth Starr, dean of Pepperdine Law School. The two acquaintances discussed whether or not Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger acted appropriately in terms of good public policy, and from an appropriate moral standpoint, when he moved forward with the execution of Crips co-founder Stanley "Tookie" Williams. For academic purposes, Catlette and Starr switched ideological standpoints.
"I'm honored to be here today and to see the continued fruits of Professor Catlette's labors, and it's a privilege to speak on this very important issue," said Starr.
Starr focused his side of the debate on the fact that, while Stanley "Tookie" Williams had indeed led a rather reprehensible life in his younger days, he had changed his ways in prison and had turned over a new leaf.
"He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize," argued Starr.
Catlette countered by saying that "anyone who is a professor anywhere in the U.S. can nominate someone for a Nobel Peace Prize."
"We're not talking about someone who committed four murders, we're talking about someone who committed several murders," said Catlette.
IN ADDITION TO the introductory "Tookie" debate, those present were also able to watch a round table discussion on Search and Seizure in schools. This discussion was moderated by Janie Strauss, School Board Representative for the Dranesville District.
"I am always so impressed by the fine job that our students do," said Strauss in regard to Case Day. "They are so well prepared."
The case chosen for this year's program was Hudson v. Michigan. In August of 1998, seven police officers carried out a search warrant for narcotics and weapons at the home of Booker T. Hudson, Jr. Before entering Hudson's home, the police officers shouted "police, search warrant," but did not knock. The police found crack cocaine and a loaded revolver, but Hudson moved to supress the evidence claiming that the police had violated the knock-and-announce requirement under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments in the U.S. Constitution.
Senior Jeff Martin acted as First Counsel for the petitioner in Langley's Case Day, and said that he was "a little nervous" as he had been preparing for the excercise for the last five weeks. However, Martin said he also enjoyed the experience as he is interested in become an attorney one day.
"I'm somewhat of a workaholic," said Martin. "Right now my entire backpack is full of opinions and briefs. It's hard work, but I find it fulfilling and interesting, and in this case in particular, I really believe in what I'm arguing for."
Senior Will Smith acted as First Counsel for the respondent, and both Smith and Martin had to go before the panel of "Supreme Court Justices" which included Chief Justice Tom Barletta, Langley principal William Clendaniel, former Dranesville District Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, several Langley teachers and AP Government students and two Justices. The judges fired questions at them, forcing them to argue and justify every aspect of their case.
"The case is the really fun part to watch," said senior Madeleine Clark.
Prior to the presentation of the case, Kenneth Starr shared some thoughts on what makes a good oral argument.
"The key is for Consul to be very responsive," said Starr. "Their argument must be strongly rooted in law, in reason and in logic so that it makes sense."