Greenfield’s Supreme Court Experience: From Boston to DC!

“One of the best classes I’ve taken at BC Law.” This is an almost guaranteed statement from any student who has taken The Supreme Court Experience with Professor Kent Greenfield. If you have the opportunity, take the class! Even if you plan to forget litigation and focus on a corporate practice (like me), take the class! Even if you are a 3L and don’t intend to “work too hard” next year, take the class!

Did I convince you already? You can apply now for Fall 2023 by filling out this form.

The Supreme Court Experience is exclusive and limited to 11 students. Each week, two students act as advocates and argue each side of a case before the other nine students, who act as the Supreme Court justices. All of the cases are pulled from the current docket, which makes it even more interesting because the “real” Court has not issued an opinion yet. Therefore, arguments by the advocates and questions from the Justices are developed based on the real-life briefs submitted to the Court.

This year, the Court (class) heard 11 controversies, including some potential landmark cases: 

  • 303 Creative v Elenis (First Amendment defense to Colorado’s anti-discrimination statute)
  • Moore v. Harper (constitutionality of the independent state legislature theory)
  • Gonzales v Google (extent of Section 230 liability)
  • Biden v. Nebraska (legality of Biden’s student loan forgiveness order)

Professor Greenfield warns in the course offering, “This course will likely prove to be more work than the average course at the law school.” This is true simply because of the number of briefs to read. However, it does not feel that way. In fact, the reason it proves to be more work is because everyone engages so intensely that it forces each person to appropriately prepare. 

3L student and Chief Justice (for our class) John Gosselin said, “I love the structure of this class. In no other class am I expected to participate with the same level of frequency or originality. I am impressed that Prof. Greenfield rarely intervenes in our conferences and lets us try out all sorts of ideas. The format is refreshing after having taken many doctrinal classes.”

To learn more about the class, check out a BC Impact Blog from a few years ago that does a great job describing the experience, accurately titled The Best Class I’ve Taken in Law School.

If that wasn’t enough, two weeks ago, the class traveled to Washington, DC to sit in on an oral argument: Jack Daniel’s Properties v. VIP Products LLC, a trademark case involving a “funny” dog toy that looked similar to a bottle of Jack. 

The morning of the argument, we all met with Professor Greenfield on the steps of the Supreme Court. Eventually, we entered through two sets of metal detectors. Interestingly, as we waited in line with a handful of people, we stood next to the advocates for the day, who waited patiently like us. In a strange way, this “equality” created a sense of citizenry that I did not expect in such a formal place.

When we walked through the doors and heavy, red curtains, we saw the bench. We sat quietly (we were “shushhed” at one point) for about 45 minutes and then we stood as the Justices entered. One might expect it to feel somewhat routine for everyone at the court since they do it so often, but the mystique was noticeably present (which I appreciated). 

Regardless how you may feel about the state of the Supreme Court, with all of its drama, everyone (particularly law students) can appreciate the institution and its history. Sitting in a room with less than 200 people and the nine Justices was surreal. It was difficult to pay attention to the actual argument as I watched each Justice and their idiosyncrasies. Every few minutes, Justice Thomas would fly back, leaning dramatically in his chair as he gazed into the ceiling. Justice Alito noticeably tossed and turned as he listened to the advocates. Justice Sotomayor, the only Justice wearing a mask, occasionally whispered to Justice Gorsuch and shared a laugh at one point. Justice Jackson, the most visibly intensely engaged, perked up in her chair, scribbling notes, rarely looking away from the advocates and her papers. And Chief Justice Roberts, in the middle, representing the most poised voice on the Court as he never showed any emotion, even during some of the jokes made by the other Justices and advocates. 

In the moment, I put aside my personal feelings towards some of the Justices and tried to humanize them, which is difficult if the only exposure to the Court is found in textbooks or audio recordings. 2L Ainsley Bandrowski said, “The opportunity to “pierce the veil” and get a real sense of the Supreme Court was remarkable—I don’t think it changed my perspective of the Court, but it absolutely enriched it. Given how little we get to really know about the Justices, seeing them interact—with each other, and with counsel—was illuminating and very unexpected.”

After a semester of working on pending cases before the Court, this trip was the perfect experience for our class. 2L Richard Dow said, “This trip provided a great opportunity to watch excellent advocacy at our highest court. I feel very grateful to have been able to attend an argument with an awesome group of classmates!” 

If THAT wasn’t enough, Professor Greenfield arranged for our class to meet with Former US Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli. Unfortunately, the meeting was canceled. Yet Mr. Verrilli chose to make it up to us by traveling to Boston and meeting with us on campus the following week.

For a one-semester course, Professor Greenfield created an amazing opportunity for BC Law students. I encourage everyone to consider the experience next year. You will not be disappointed!

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