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Northwest Missouri State University


Dan Smith's Virtual Supreme Court

Dan Smith

Mr. Dan Smith, Assistant Professor
History/Humanity/Philosophy/Political Science Department
iNcourt Virtual Supreme Court Site

 

iNcourt is a virtual Supreme Court site, which is designed to facilitate judicial simulations in Political Science courses (at present, in advanced Law & Courts courses).  Moot court simulations are widely used in these courses, with students engaging in various tasks– briefing cases, drafting appellate briefs and/or outlines, presenting oral arguments, questioning advocates as judges, drafting opinions, completing written or verbal debriefing exercises-- depending on how sophisticated the instructor chooses to make the simulation.  Moot court simulations serve numerous pedagogical goals, most commonly creating an environment for rigorous discussion and debate of legal doctrine; role-playing to develop critical thinking and communications skills; confronting alternative points of view in a case study environment; and teaching/reinforcing judicial politics by embedding students in the judicial decision-making process.  Over the past several years Dan has gradually progressed from a more traditional “classroom with the occasional simulation” format to a more simulation-driven course in which students regularly engage in role playing. 

iNcourt provides a one-stop source for a simulation-driven course.  It is a research and information resource, electronic filing depository, virtual conference (for certiorari and merits voting and discussion), and debriefing center.  The Introduction to the Supreme Court tab provides general content on court rules, procedures and history of the institution, which is both useful background and essential content for required assignments.  The Library provides information about legal research and writing, including how-to guides and samples of written work.  The Law Office is the location for all activities as attorneys– case pools for students to consider for filings petitions before the Court, submission tabs for filings, calendar information, and access to filings by other attorneys in class.  The Court House includes a detailed schedule of all moot court cases, all filings before the Court, voting and virtual judicial conferences, and submission of opinions.  The Classroom provides course information such as the syllabus, master calendar, submission tabs for certain assignments, plus debriefing tools such as threaded discussions and journals.  It is neither a substitute for the in-class simulations nor a mere depository; briefs are filed on the site, read by students, and then used for the in-class oral arguments.  Following oral arguments, the class goes into judicial conference mode, in which we discuss the case in anticipation of voting.  That discussion continues in the virtual Judicial Conference, which continues until the voting deadline, whereupon each “judge” must vote and post an explanation.  Following votes, opinions are assigned, which the judges file on the site for review by all class members. 

The iNcourt site has accelerated Dan’s goal of making these courses simulation-driven.  In addition to the traditional classroom and written assignments, students are engaged from Day 1 reviewing and selecting cases for briefing and oral argument, voting and explaining their votes.  Most exciting, the site has enabled Dan to integrate lessons of judicial decision making and politics almost inherently; by requiring students to create judicial self-profiles, act strategically in the decision making process, and reflect on the process, they are learning the process almost by osmosis as we focus on the doctrine.

Former CITE student employee, Courtney Heitman assisted in the development of this project.  For additional information about iNcourt and how this program was developed, contact Dan at DESMITH@nwmissouri.edu or x-1293.  Or, contact the CITE Office at cite@nwmissouri.edu or x-1532.