The North Dakota Supreme Court returned to the University of North Dakota Law School this week for its annual visit, giving students the opportunity to see the state’s highest court in action as it heard four arguments over the course of two days.
The state Supreme Court has been making the trip to Grand Forks to hear arguments for more than 30 years, said Rob Carolin, a UND Law School spokesperson.
“We’re the only law school in North Dakota. We are basically North Dakota’s law school,” Carolin said. “(The justices) have a strong tie to the law school because we are sort of the folks training the future generation of attorneys for North Dakota. And also, a lot of them went to school here. They have a personal kind of joy, as a former student, that they get to come back and make a difference.”
The first of the four cases, heard the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 30, was the State of North Dakota v. Chad Vincent LeGare, a criminal appeal of a murder case.
Third-year law student Carl Karpinski, 23, said that hearing the high court handle such a case is a rare opportunity. As the first round of hour-long arguments wrapped up, he said he came out of the law school’s Baker Courtroom in awe of the depth and breadth of the justices’ knowledge.
“They seem to know everything,” he said. “At the appellate level, it’s not as juicy; it’s more procedural. But this was very entertaining -- it was worth getting out of bed for.”
Michael McGinnis, the dean of the law school, said the event always packs the law school’s Baker Courtroom. This year, Carolin said attendance was even higher than usual, and several chairs were added to the back of the room at the last minute to accommodate the crowd.
Most of the approximately 230 people in attendance were UND law and pre-law students, Carolin said, but this year the law school also welcomed 29 junior and senior students from Central Valley High School in Buxton, who had the chance to meet with three of the justices and discuss law careers before the morning’s arguments.
That’s the real draw of the court’s visit to the campus, Karpinski said -- while watching the court handle cases and hear arguments is invaluable, what many students look forward to most is the facetime with the justices.
“They’re just the brightest and also the most down-to-earth,” he said. “They are the upper echelon court, and they come talk to a first-year class for two hours and shake every kid’s hand.”
In addition to hearing arguments and visiting with law classes, on Wednesday evening the justices also judged the student Moot Court Competition, during which UND law students gave mock appellate-style arguments.
The competition followed a similar format as the cases heard by the court Wednesday and Thursday, with both sides having a timed opportunity to present their arguments to the court.
“(The justices) treat them the same way they treat every other case,” Carolin said. “They’ll question them, make them cite the law and make them be accountable for what their arguments are. It’s a really great experience for the students to do that.”
Carolin said, to his knowledge, the court’s relationship with the law school is unique -- and one they’re lucky to have.
“It’s a smaller state, and people support each other,” he said. “The law school, it’s not this cutthroat organization. We’re working together, and we want people to succeed.”