June 19, 2022
By Aria Stuhmer
After a year of studying Supreme Court cases, the 16 students in Mr. Clifford’s Advanced Placement U.S. Government & Politics class got the chance to take on the work of America’s highest court.
As a culminating project, which students began working on after the AP test last month, students selected a current Supreme Court case and took on roles as attorneys working in pairs to represent the petitioners and respondents. The presentations, known as oral arguments, began on May 20 and continued through June 10. When they were not presenting, the students acted as justices by asking questions and delivering a ruling.
Clifford said he first introduced this project in AP Government & Politics in 2016. Now, it has become an annual tradition.
“I wanted students to get an idea of what the Supreme Court actually is and the impact that Supreme Court decisions have on the United States,” Clifford said. “I wanted to give students an interesting and fun assignment requiring research on a topic they find interesting.”
Clifford said students generally enjoy the project and do an excellent job incorporating their understanding of judicial philosophy into the assignment.
He said arguing a Supreme Court case helps students strengthen their public speaking and debate skills.
“Students gain greater respect for the Judicial Branch and why SCOTUS justices are an integral part of our system of government,” Clifford said.
Sophomore Julia Tozduman argued on behalf of the petitioner in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which addresses a football coach who prayed on the school football field. The case raised the Constitutional question: Is a public school employee’s prayer during school sports activities protected speech, and if so, can the public school employer prohibit it to avoid violating the Establishment Clause?
Tozduman said the project was interesting and engaging because the cases the students presented are cases being decided by the Supreme Court during this term.
“The best part of this project was arguing my case,” Tozduman said. “Finding the small details that people were going to ask us questions about was the most difficult part of the project.”
Tozduman said she felt prepared for the project because the class studied the Constitution and its amendments.
“Students gain greater respect for the Judicial Branch and why SCOTUS justices are an integral part of our system of government.”
“I learned that it’s important to know all the facts about the case before you make a decision,” Tozduman said.
Sophomore Michael Rizzo argued for the respondent in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which addresses Mississippi’s 2018 law known as the Gestational Age Act, which bans nearly all abortions after a 15-week gestational age. He represented one of the doctors at Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only licensed abortion facility in Mississippi, who filed a lawsuit challenging the law and requesting an emergency temporary restraining order.
“I learned a lot about the facts of the case, and I am excited to see the outcome of it,” Rizzo said. “I had a fun time working on it. It was fun to work with my partner [junior] Cecilia Valdez.”
Like Tozduman, Rizzo said the best part of the project was presenting his arguments, but anticipating questions and figuring out how to answer them was difficult.
Rizzo said studying past Supreme Court cases prepared him for the assignment, which helped him develop his personal opinion about abortion laws in the United States.
“I was really on the fence, but the more I argued my point[s], the more I started to agree with them,” Rizzo said.
Sophomore Isabella Guzman represented the petitioner in Egbert v. Boule, which addressed a warrantless arrest at an inn located close to the U.S.-Canada border.
“It was really fun to experience law from not just studying it,” Guzman said. “I learned that being a lawyer is hard, but I really liked creating my arguments for my case.”
Guzman said she enjoyed taking AP U.S. Government & Politics and recommends that other students enroll in the course.
“I think it’s a fun class. It’s very insightful if you’re interested in law, and Mr. Clifford is a great teacher,” said Guzman.