U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito helps judge moot court competition at Rutgers Law School

Back: Katrina Xyloportas and Kayla Louis, Laura Garcia and Stephen Marietta. Front: Retired state Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Judge Michael Chagares. Credits: Amanda Brown for Rutgers Law School

Most lawyers never get the opportunity to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. But future lawyers at Rutgers University got a chance to make their case before a Supreme Court justice.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was among three judges in a moot court competition held April 11 at the Newark law school. The close competition pitted Katrina Xyloportas and Kayla Louis from Camden, against Stephen Marietta and Laura Garcia of Newark as opposing counsels arguing a First Amendment case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case centered around a heterosexual couple from New Jersey who sued the owners of their wedding venue claiming they were being discriminated against because they had to pay more money than a homosexual couple to get married at the same venue. 

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The couple said the discriminatory pricing violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination. The company, a benefit corporation, disagreed and said that applying the Law Against Discrimination in this case violated its First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, arguing that its charter allowed it to express its statement against discrimination by offering lower pricing to gay couples, to promote diversity and equality.

However, according to the case summary given to the Garth competitors, both the New Jersey Superior Court and state Supreme Court sided with the couple, not the company that owned the wedding venue. During the competition, Xyloportas and Louis argued on behalf of the company while Marietta and Garcia argued on behalf of the couple.

Justice Alito was joined on the panel by Michael Chagares, a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein.

Law students, families of the competitors, and law school deans and faculty filled the Baker Court Room to listen to the spirited competition, which was conducted like a U.S. Supreme Court argument, with each speaker granted 15 minutes to argue the point while judges peppered them with questions.

After the final rebuttal, a long round of applause was given to all four students before the winners were announced. The names of the winners will be engraved on two plaques, one for each law school campus in Newark and in Camden.

Justice Alito praised the competitors after the arguments were over. Former Justice Stein said that the students were dealing with high-level legal issues, “These are serious issues the Supreme Court has just begun to grapple with. You did not freeze or stumble. You sounded like you were out for a walk in the park. You were comfortable and confident and answered superbly.”

“You were terrific,” echoed Judge Chagares. “The poise that you showed was just remarkable.”
The competition is named after Judge Garth, who was a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for over 40 years, and a well-known figure at Rutgers Law School. Garth served as an adjunct professor of appellate advocacy for 20 years. 

Garth’s law clerks created a fund that sponsored an annual lecture series in his name, and before his death in 2016, he approved converting the program to an appellate moot court competition between teams of law students from both the Camden and Newark locations.

The competition also brought together Garth’s former law clerks to honor the judge, who died last fall. Alito and Rutgers Law School Co-Dean Ronald K. Chen ’83, were among the former clerks who attended the event.

“There’s nothing he enjoyed more than a legal argument,” said Harvey Rishikoff, another one of Garth’s clerks and the former dean of faculty at the National War College at the National Defense University in Washington D.C.  Justice Alito concurred, “For all of us, he was the mentor supreme, an inspiration for our legal careers.”

Tobie Meisel, Judge Garth’s daughter, and her husband, Michael Meisel, both attended the competition. After the competition, the law school hosted a reception for the winners, and Co-dean Chen said he was looking forward to continuing the Garth Competition each year. 

“No matter what the outcome, I can say Rutgers Law School won," Chen said.

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