April 27, 2004
Cooney and Schochet Take Moot Court
|John Schochet, left, and J.P. Cooney argued before
three U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal judges.
The laurels in the 75th annual William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition
have gone to J.P. Cooney and John Schochet in a close and brilliantly
argued contest with Eric Dowell and Thomas Bednar. Bednar took personal
honors for best oralist in the final round argument.
Cooney and Schochet convinced a panel of three U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeal judges, cast in the role of Supreme Court justices for purposes
of the competition, that the 1789 Alien Tort Statute does not grant
alien plaintiffs the right to sue alien defendants in American courts
for events that did not happen in the United States but constitute
violations of international law. Cooney and Schochet also argued that,
even if the Alien Tort Statute granted a cause of action for violations
of international law, “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” does
not constitute a violation of international law under the statute.
The moot court case closely parallels the underlying issue in a case
argued before the Supreme Court of the United States in April, Sosa
“The way we tried to present the argument, it’s not a
question of whether it’s a good idea to let aliens bring these
kinds of suits in American courts, but a question of whether Congress
provided for it in the statute,” Schochet said.
The competition began last year with more than 150 participants and,
four rounds of brief-writing and five rounds of oral argument later,
ended with Cooney and Schochet as the winners of its tournament-style
The teams argued before Chief Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg of the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge R. Lanier Anderson
III of the Eleventh Circuit, and Judge Julia Smith Gibbons of the Sixth
“The judges were excellent,” said Cooney. “They
asked difficult questions. However, we felt like we were well prepared
for it. The people who mooted us, our friends here, were really on
the ball. So when the judges’ questions came, we were ready.”
“We’re pretty proud of it,” he said. “We worked
our butts off. It’s easily the equivalent of taking another class—and
then some. For the last two-and-a-half weeks we had our friends quizzing
and grilling us every night.”
While most litigation surrounding the Alien Tort Statute has focused
on implied cause of action doctrine, Cooney and Schochet also presented
a constitutional argument, asserting that courts do not have the power
under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to make international law
the law of the United States without explicit authorization by Congress.
Virginia professors Curtis Bradley and Jack Goldsmith were the first
legal academics to make the constitutional argument about the Alien
Tort Statute, Schochet noted.
“The key thing is the brief,” said Cooney to explain their
success in oral argument. “We edited each other’s work
so much that we could have argued each other’s case,” added
Schochet, who met Cooney as a section-mate his first year.
“One of the reasons we enjoyed the moot court competition so
much and that it was easily worth all the effort is that it teaches
practical skills so well,” said Schochet. “It’s not
just the brief writing, it’s the oral argument. I was a decent
brief-writer before, but I feel like I’ve improved immensely
over the course of the competition. It’s the practice.” Schochet
will have a note published in the June issue of the Virginia Law
Review, coauthored with second-year James DiTullio and advised
by law professor Michael
Cooney taught high school in Chicago for two years before coming to
law school, and credits his teaching experience with giving him better
presentation skills. “When you go before a court you’re
trying to teach the judge or the jury what they need to know.”
Cooney, a native of Arlington who graduated from Notre Dame, will
clerk for the Hon. Robert Doumar, a Federal District judge in Norfolk,
next year before beginning work with Jones Day in Washington, D.C.
Schochet, a Californian who attended Yale, is joining the firm of Lane
Powell Spears Lubersky in Seattle.
• Reported by M. Marshall