UCI’s School of law Holds Moot court Finals

By: Deryn Harris

Paige Christie and Tiffany Aguiar competed in the oral argument finals at UCI’s School of Law’s Experian/Jones Day Moot Court Finals on Jan. 25.

According to UCI’s website, moot court is a competition in which students argue a case in a mock court setting. Students write a brief, typically in teams of two, and argue, as individuals, a case before an appellate court —  usually the United States Supreme Court.

The three presiding judges included Sheryl Gordon McCloud, a Washington Supreme justice, Michael H. Simon, a justice for the Oregon District Court, and Richard D. Fybel the Fourth District, Third Division justice for the California Court of Appeal.

Christie and Aguiar debated a case in which a student, Taylor Bell from Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi, was disciplined for a rap video he posted online, off of school grounds.

The rap video depicted Bell calling out and making threatening remarks towards two high school sports coaches whom he accused of having sexually assaulted classmates.

Bell was subsequently suspended for the remainder of the school year. He filed a suit against the school, alleging that “the school’s disciplinary action violated his First Amendment right to free speech.”

The Fifth Circuit upheld the initial U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi’s decision that his First Amendment rights were not violated since his rap contained “possible threats against teachers.”

In this moot Supreme Court case, Christie argued on behalf of the Petitioner, While Aguiar, the Respondent, argued on behalf of Itawamba Agricultural High School.

The debate centered around the question of “whether public schools may, consistent with the First Amendment, impose discipline on students for speech conducted entirely off campus.”

Christie argued that Bell’s speech should have been protected by the first amendment since his rap did not contain a “true threat” and therefore Bell should have been able to express his opinions about a social issue. Christie proposed a revision of the traditional “Tinker Test” by offering an alternative where one could be punished at school for off-campus speech if and only if the speech creates a substantial, negative disruption on school campus with an “adverse effect.” Since Bell’s rap did not meet this criteria, his off-campus speech would be protected.

Conversely Aguiar argued that the school appropriately disciplined Bell since he used violent language that targeted two faculty members, and did in fact create a substantial disruption on campus since the Coaches in question had to practice being more cautious and conscious in their interaction with female students, thereby altering their teaching styles. Aguiar also proposed before the court a variation of the “Tinker Test” where a student can be punished if his or her speech was targeted or directed at the school; harassed, threatened or intimidated its target; and created or could have foreseeably created a substantial disruption.

Judges determined Christie the winner. UCI law professor Rachel Croskery-Roberts presented Christie and two others, Salma Alheraiqi and Cabula Johanson, with the Best Brief Award, concluding the 2019 Moot Courts at UCI.