Kristen Merritt ’21 Wins the 2019 Ilana Diamond Rovner Appellate Advocacy Competition

Friday, November 15, 2019

Kristen Merritt, a second-year student at Chicago-Kent College of Law, has won the 28th annual Ilana Diamond Rovner Appellate Advocacy Competition, sponsored by the law school's Moot Court Honor Society. The competition is named for Chicago-Kent graduate Ilana Diamond Rovner, the first woman to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner (left) presented Kristen Merritt ’21 with the 2019 Ilana Diamond Rovner Award for Outstanding Appellate Advocate.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner (left) presented Kristen Merritt ’21 with the 2019 Ilana Diamond Rovner Award for Outstanding Appellate Advocate.

Students argued Kahler v. Kansas, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court about whether it was constitutional for Kansas to eliminate its affirmative defense for legal insanity and instead allow evidence of mental illness to be introduced only to negate the mens rea element of a crime. The advocates debated whether, by limiting evidence about mental illness in that fashion, Kansas violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which prevents states from abolishing fundamental rights that are deeply rooted in our nation’s history, and whether it violated the Eighth Amendment, which prevents states from imposing cruel and unusual punishment. At its heart, the case concerns the constraints that the United States Constitution can impose on state criminal law. 

In the final round of competition, Merritt argued against Hayden Dinges ’21. As first-place winner, Merritt received the Ilana Diamond Rovner Award for Outstanding Appellate Advocate.

“Both Kristen and Hayden presented excellent arguments, and they both admirably withstood intense questioning by Judge Rovner, Justice Cobbs, and Professor Streseman,” says Cherish Keller, interim director of the Ilana Diamond Rovner Program in Appellate Advocacy.

Dinges, who placed second, received the Ralph L. Brill Award for Best Brief. Professor Ralph Brill, who taught at Chicago-Kent from 1961 through late 2016, founded the law school's legal research and writing program and its award-winning moot court program.

Sakshi Jain ’21 won the Fay Clayton Award for Outstanding Oral Advocate. Clayton, who graduated with honors from Chicago-Kent in 1978, won a major case in the U.S. Supreme Court, National Organization for Women v. Scheidler, and was a founding shareholder of the Chicago law firm of Robinson Curley until she retired in 2016.

The final round of the competition was judged by a distinguished panel that included the Honorable Ilana Diamond Rovner; the Honorable Cynthia Y. Cobbs ’88 of the Illinois Appellate Court, First District; and Kent Streseman, former director of the Ilana Diamond Rovner Program in Appellate Advocacy.

Established in 1992, the Ilana Diamond Rovner Program in Appellate Advocacy provides training for students in Chicago-Kent's Moot Court Honor Society. Students in the program complete intensive coursework in appellate litigation, compete in the Ilana Diamond Rovner Competition, and then go on represent the law school in appellate advocacy tournaments throughout the United States.

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