9th Circuit judges preside over National Immigration Law Competition Final Argument

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Imagine having lived all your life thinking you were a U.S. citizen—and then suddenly receiving a letter from the State Department over two decades later saying, Sorry, but there’s been a mistake and they would like your passport and certificate saying you were a citizen born abroad back now. Can the State Department do that? And is having a U.S. passport or a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) enough to prove you were a real U.S. citizen?

These were the facts facing the competitors at the 11th annual National Immigration Law Competition, sponsored by Fragomen Worldwide, this past weekend in the case Haverford v. Kerry.

Writers Sonya Chung ’16 and Zi Lin ‘16 based the problem on the recent Second Circuit case Hizam v. Kerry, infusing it with their own twists and a Parks and Recreation-inspired flair. The first day of arguments on Friday, February 26, 2016, also included a lunchtime panel featuring Matthew Moffa, Mr. Hizam’s attorney from Ropes & Gray LLP, who talked about the aftermath of their loss at the circuit level, and David Isaacson from Cyrus D. Mehta & Partners, PLLC (another sponsor of the Competition) who described the various alternate legal strategies possible in the case.

The final round’s Ninth Circuit panel, comprising Judge Stephen Reinhardt, Judge Richard Paez, and Judge Raymond Fisher, rigorously examined both Petitioner, represented by University of Virginia Law School, and the Respondents, represented by Emory Law School.

In between tongue-in-cheek comments on the looming presidential race—“If we declare Petitioner to be a U.S. national, can he still run for president?” mused Judge Fisher, referencing presidential candidate Ted Cruz—and poking fun at their own bench—“The Ninth Circuit is frequently reversed,” started Judge Fisher, “-and frequently right!” finished Judge Reinhardt—the judges were a hot bench, peppering the oralists with questions ranging from how much the likelihood of an extrajudicial remedy for a person suddenly rendered stateless should weight their decision, to what it might mean if the State Department returns official documents like a passport to someone who has already conceded he is no longer a citizen. The oralists also had to deal with the awkwardness of having a good part of the debate centered around the persuasive value of a Ninth Circuit case, Magnuson v. Baker.

The final decision was a very close one, and it was with great difficulty that the judges gave the win to the Respondents—Kathryn Modugno and Alexandra Weiss (Emory ’17), representing the State Department (with the help of coaches Hana Shatila and Daniel Marin-Finn (Emory ’16)). The judges all praised the oralists for their poise before a very active bench and for handling the pressure with grace. “I don’t think I would have done as well in your position,” said Judge Paez. “This was one of those rare cases where oral argument really mattered,” Judge Reinhardt concluded, “and you helped us think through this challenging case.”

2016 Immigration Law Competition Results

Best Brief: Columbia University
Best Oralist: Zachary Naidich, Brooklyn Law School

Quarter-Finalists: Washington and Lee University School of Law (Teams 1 and 2), George Washington University School of Law, Harvard Law School
Semi-Finalists: Columbia Law School, Brooklyn Law School
Finalist: University of Virginia Law School
Champion: Emory University Law School