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Kirkpatrick ’24 Earns Moot Court Victory

Seth Kirkpatrick ’24 didn’t rest on his laurels as the reigning champion in this year’s Moot Court competition. He made improvements and won again.

The feedback he received after winning last year—he shared Top Advocate honors with Liam Buckley ’23—was that he was overly aggressive and intense. He took that feedback thoughtfully, made changes, and made himself more aware of his pace, tone, and intensity.

“This is a competition where you have to figure it out,” said Kirkpatrick, a rhetoric and political science double major from South Bend, Indiana. “What I’m most happy about is being able to have the same zip in the argument without being too intense. Having the emotional intelligence to think for a second and look the judges in the eye led to better pacing.”

Kirkpatrick topped a field of 30 participants in the 30th annual event, including finalists Andrew Dever ’25, Liam Grennon ’24, and Gabe Pirtle ’25, by deftly navigating a case involving the First Amendment and social media platforms.

Seth Kirkpatrick ’24

The case centered on recent efforts by state legislatures to enact “content-moderation” provisions that prevent social media platforms from de-platforming (deleting posts from or banning) political candidates or journalistic enterprises; shadow banning (deprioritizing or eliminating exposure) to information about political candidates or from journalistic enterprises; or applying censorship, de-platforming, and shadow banning standards in an inconsistent manner.

The judges were impressed with the finalists’ ability to master the facts of a complex and nuanced case.

“I was particularly impressed by the ways in which you handled questions from us,” said Judge Damon R. Leichty ’94, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. “It’s one thing to be prepared and ready to talk. It’s another thing to be able to think on your feet. Each of these advocates did a very nice job of that.”

Judge Darren Chadd ’92, a member of the Montgomery County Circuit Court, offered advice to the undergraduate advocates.

“Know the facts forward and backward and the law applicable to the case,” he said. “You might face a tricky question, but you always come back to the facts. I was impressed with each of you in your interactions with us and the great confidence and poise you displayed.”

Those attributes would be needed by each advocate. Dever, a first-time finalist who argued for the respondents, did his best to anticipate and prepare.

“Oh, they came quickly, but I thought I answered questions pretty well,” said the history and Spanish double major from Dallas, Texas. “On the question of shadow banning, I was able to give the judges two examples favorable to my side. Even when I stumbled a bit, I smiled, looked at the judges and kept presenting my argument.”

That grace under pressure served Dever well, as he was named the recipient of the Floyd Artful Advocacy Prize, given to the advocate who is successful, but also kind, tactful, and principled.

“Every person wants to win, but being a good person, understanding people, and representing the client with respect and passion is something I take pride in,” said Dever. “It was an honor to be up there with Liam, Gabe, and Seth, who are all so talented. It’s such a fun event. It was an honor and a privilege to sit up there and argue.”

The First Amendment background in this case presents constitutional questions any lawyer would think deeply about. Judge Matthew Carlson, associate professor of philosophy, was impressed the four advocates argued intelligently on a case that is currently being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“That really does give you a sense of scale and depth when it comes to a legal problem like this,” he said. “You were tremendous in navigating through the law and the facts and handling some tough questions along the way.”

Leichty identified another quality that separated Kirkpatrick, who argued for the petitioners and handled the rebuttal, from his competitors.

Andrew Dever ’25 (center) was named the recipient of the Floyd Artful Advocacy Prize.

“They have to have absolute cold knowledge of the facts and the law, they have to be poised, and they have to be a dynamic, critical thinker to wrestle with the questions that come at a moment's notice,” he explained. “Then to weave back into their argument as soon as they answer a question. That’s a true skill.

“Once you’ve heard all the arguments from the other lawyers, whittling that down to a pinpointed rebuttal, and to drive the point of the case home for the justices, that’s a rare art. Seth did a tremendous job on his rebuttal.”

Like Carlson, Kirkpatrick is very interested in how this case plays out in the Supreme Court. The engaging part for the fifth two-time winner, and third to do so back-to-back, was discovering these new connections within the law in this emerging space for regulation.

“The most exciting and challenging part was articulating it because it’s so new,” he said. “You have to make comparisons to newspapers, even though they’re not comparable. You are trying to take any morsel of information from these pre-existing sources and stitch them together to try to make it analogous to something as new as social media platforms.”