On March 20, 2019, students from Professor Fred Woods' Lawyering Skills Program Section C class had the opportunity to expand their legal education by attending their first Supreme Court Oral Argument: Flowers V. Mississippi.
Petitioner Curtis Flowers has been tried six times for the same off in Mississippi state court. Through the first four trials, prosecutor Doug Evans relentlessly removed as many qualified African American jurors as he could. He struck all ten African Americans who came up for consideration during the first two trials, and he used all twenty-six of his allotted strikes against African Americans at the third and fourth trials. (The fifth jury hung on guilt-or- innocence and strike information is not in the available record). Along the way, Evans was twice adjudicated to have violated Batson v. Kentucky - once by the trial judge during the second trial, and once by the Mississippi Supreme Court after the third trial.
The question during the arguments was: Whether a prosecutor's history of adjudicated purposeful race discrimination may be dismissed as irrelevant when assessing the credibility of his proffered explanations for peremptory strikes against minority prospective jurors?
During the arguments, Justice Clarence Thomas posed his first question in three years. Though his colleagues focused mainly on the prosecutor's exclusion of African-American jurors, Thomas asked whether the defense had struck any white jurors.
Watching the attorneys present their arguments and respond to the Justices' questions was like watching two athletes compete in a championship game. I am so glad Professor Woods made it a top priority to take his class and make use of our close proximity to the Supreme Court. (Patrick Hall, 1L)
Visiting the Supreme Court and sitting in on a hearing has been one of the highlights of my legal education thus far. As students, it can sometimes be easy to get lost in what the "bigger picture" is. Sitting in at court was a reminder of both the importance of the things we learn every day in the classroom and also a reminder of the endless possibilities that we will have with a JD. I am so grateful for all of the opportunities that Catholic has given me, and for the opportunity to be learning the law right in DC, where I can be in court in the morning and make it to my afternoon classes. (Aimee Solano 1L)
Coming from South Florida, sitting in an oral argument at the Supreme Court is something I would have never imagined I'd be able to experience. I am so fortunate to have had Professor Woods bring our class to such an exclusive experience. Being able to watch the Justices and attorneys perform their art was such an inspiration for me. As students, it really is easy to get lost in the details of our assignments and briefs; but this experience put everything into perspective for me. It reminded me of why I love what I'm studying and motivated me to work harder. After this experience, all the current opinions I have read are much more personal now, I associate the Justice's demeanor, voice and behavior to the opinion, making it much more enjoyable to read. I am so grateful to attend a law school in Washington DC and have experienced these opportunities. (Krystina Dorta 1L)
The visit to the Supreme Court made me remember why I chose to go to Law school in the Nation's capital. After spending a year in law school, it was extremely fulfilling that I could follow along with all of the arguments being delivered during proceedings. This unbelievable visit was topped off with hearing Justice Thomas break his three year silence on the bench when he asked a question with a few minutes left in the oral arguments. Professor Woods fueled the spark in all of us and showed us why we want to be lawyers and how we can do what those lawyers did. (Andrew Meck 1L)
It was a valuable and impressive experience for me and my 9-year-old daughter, Laura Su. She has dreamed of becoming a justice so she was thrilled we would be visiting the Supreme Court. She was very excited the night before, and she also asked me questions about the case. When we got there, she was impressed by the architecture. She was also a little nervous. She noticed that Justice Thomas leaned back in his chair and sometimes swung back and forth with his hand on his forehead. After the trial, she asked me why it appeared that he wasn't paying attention (a child's perspective!). After the trial we went on a tour, and she remembers this well: "The Supreme building, America's Justice of Temple." I think this experience confirmed her dream. (Bo Yang IL)