Skip to main content

Arizona Indian law students host 2008 Moot Court Competition

TEMPE, Ariz. - The National Native American Law Students Association chapters at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law are sponsoring the 16th annual NNALSA Moot Court Competition in Tempe Feb. 21 - 23. The competition gives NNALSA members an opportunity to enhance their student legal expertise.

''Moot'' is an Anglo-Saxon term that means ''meeting.'' During a town meeting, or moot, matters concerning the town were often debated. Consequently, the word ''moot'' came to refer to an arguable or debatable point. Today, moot courts are frequently held to help law students in the practice of presenting oral arguments and written briefs. In a moot court, students argue the intricacies of a point of law of current interest, submitting legal briefs and constructing oral arguments.

Practicing attorneys trained in Indian law encounter a wide variety of issues and problems on a daily basis, from domestic matters to business transactions and complex jurisdictional questions. Considering problems that are currently being debated in tribal law today is part of the moot exercise.

The problem for the upcoming moot court competition was proposed by then-ASU law and American Indian studies professor Kevin Gover, member of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and current director of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The debate deals with a dispute between a tribe and an incorporated municipality that both seek to apply zoning laws to a parcel of free land located within a reservation.

Students may enter the competition as individuals or in teams; however, participation is limited to law schools with active NNALSA chapters. Students will compete in six elimination rounds during which they will argue for the appellant petitioner. At the conclusion of each level of rounds, cumulative scores with be assessed.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Winners will be selected according to the scores they receive on their participation. Judges will assign scores reflecting the student or teams' preparation and familiarity with the facts of the case under consideration; the structure of legal arguments and knowledge of pertinent laws; their organization, presentation and speaking ability; and their persuasiveness and courtroom etiquette. Awards will be presented for Best Brief, Best Individual Oralist and Best Advocate.

The Native law programs at ASU and UA have been hailed as top programs in the field. The ASU Indian Legal program was established in 1988 to train Indian law students and promote an understanding of the differences between the legal systems of Indian nations and the United States. The Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program at UA is widely recognized as one of the world's leading academic centers of learning for the study of indigenous laws and human rights. Both programs seek to prepare student lawyers who are looking for a satisfying career in public service for tribal governments to meet unique Native legal challenges.

NNALSA was established in 1970 to support Native students in law school and promote the study of federal Indian law, tribal law and traditional forms of governance. It strives to reach out to American Indian communities, encourage Native people to pursue legal education and educate the legal community about American Indian legal issues. The annual moot court competition is just one of many services the organization provides for its members.

Matt Campbell, vice president of ASU's NNALSA chapter, is the organizer of this year's competition. He said the moot competition is an important annual event for Indian law students. ''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. It is a wonderful opportunity for Native students to compete, network and share ideas about the dynamic field of Indian law.''

According to tribal law scholars Frank Pommersheim and John P. LaVelle, who have written extensively about American Indian law, the competence and maturity of tribal courts have improved considerably in the past 25 years. The critical need for Indian law experts has increased, especially in light of new economic development in Indian country and other legal complexities Native people face today. Accordingly, the number of students entering the challenging field of tribal law has increased as well. Moot court competitions are one way of enhancing student legal expertise.

The particulars of the moot problem can be viewed on the NNALSA Web site at For further information about competition registration and application deadlines, e-mail Campbell at