Law students from 20 universities around the country will gather Feb. 21-23 at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University for the 2008 National Native American Law Students Association (NNALSA) Moot Court Competition.
The 16th annual event, sponsored by the NNALSA chapters at the College of Law and at the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law, will give Native American and other students the chance to improve their oral and written legal skills by debating a problem that's germane to Indian law today.
"This is an opportunity for students to showcase what they've been going to law school for," said Ann Begay, a third-year student at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, and vice president of NNALSA
More than 100 students, from the University of Hawaii's William C. Richardson School of Law to Columbia Law School in New York City, will participate in rounds during the first two days, and the finals will be held on Saturday, Feb. 23. Winners will be selected based on the scores they earn for oral arguments and written briefs.
The final argument will be judged by an impressive panel - William C. Canby Jr. and Betty B. Fletcher, both of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court Justice Scott Bales, Herb Yazzie, Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court and a 1975 alumnus of the College of Law, and Diane J. Humetewa, U.S. Attorney for Arizona and a 1993 graduate of the College of Law.
This year's problem was authored by Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and a professor on leave from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. It deals with a dispute about the application of land-use and zoning laws to a parcel of land on an Indian reservation, where both a tribe and a municipality want to apply their own zoning laws.
"This problem is so great," Begay said. "The question is always about jurisdiction because that's the heart of federal Indian law, the conflict between the rights of the states and the federal government and how tribes can exercise their sovereignty."
With its renowned Indian Legal Program and proximity to Indian Country, the law school is the ideal setting for the moot court competition, Begay said.
"We want to raise the bar for moot court to make it an Indian Country experience," she said. "What better place to have it than Arizona, and at this law school, with a faculty that has such quality and influence?"
The competition also draws representatives of various law firms, including those with Indian law practices, who take notice of students who perform well.
"This event will enhance substantive knowledge in the fields of federal Indian law, tribal law and traditional forms of governance, and will bring together students, judges, attorneys and scholars from across the country," said Matt Campbell, a third-year student at the Sandra Day O'Connor College or Law and vice president of its NALSA chapter. "It is a wonderful opportunity for Native students to compete, network and share ideas about the dynamic field of Indian law."
The Moot Court rounds, free and open to the public, will be held in Armstrong Hall and in the Ross-Blakley Law Library from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22, and from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23.