Ninth Circuit Holds Oral Arguments at Law School for First Time Since COVID-19

Law students watched the wheels of justice in motion as Ninth Circuit judges and attorneys gathered for oral arguments at the University of San Diego School of Law in mid-February. It was the first time the Circuit heard arguments at a law school since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“Our court is delighted to bring to life students’ academic studies, and we hope students will be inspired to pursue clerkship opportunities with our federal Judiciary and strive for excellence in their future legal careers,” said Chief Judge Mary H. Murguia, of the Ninth Circuit. “As the largest circuit, geographically, we try to sit in as many different locations as possible, and our law school sittings help to accomplish that end, as well as to bring the court into the law school experience, which is something that other circuits do as well.”

Federal courts of appeals across the country conduct special sittings at law schools to provide law students with real-life exposure to a sitting panel of judges, lawyers presenting oral arguments, and the briefing in real cases. However, these living civics lessons were put on hold during the pandemic.

“It feels fantastic to be back in the community,” said Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown, who was a part of the special sitting in San Diego. “The Ninth Circuit has offered real-time video of our arguments for years, but there is no substitute for watching in person the interaction among the lawyers and the judges.”

Roughly 225 spectators gathered at the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theatre to watch as judges and attorneys deliberated cases involving alleged excessive force by police and a high-speed police pursuit that resulted in the death of a bystander.

“Oral argument is the culmination of extensive briefing and preparation, and oral advocacy is an art taught through observation and practice,” McKeown said. “The students will see justice in action and, hopefully, see real time application of what they have been studying — from procedure to advocacy, constitutional law, criminal law, civil rights law, employment law and more.”