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The 2020 Harlan Institute-Ashbrook Virtual Supreme Court

The Harlan Institute and Ashbrook announce the Eighth Annual Virtual Supreme Court Competition.


The Harlan Institute and Ashbrook announce the Eighth Annual Virtual Supreme Court Competition. This competition offers teams of two high school students the opportunity to research cutting-edge constitutional law, write persuasive appellate briefs, argue against other students through video chats, and try to persuade a panel of esteemed attorneys during oral argument that their side is correct. This year the competition focuses on Torres v. Madrid.

The competition is endorsed by the Center for Civic Education's We The People Competition:

"The Center for Civic Education is excited to endorse the Virtual Supreme Court Competition. The Competition is relevant for high school students studying the Constitution and Bill of Rights."

-Robert Leming, Director, We the People Programs, Center for Civic Education

The Question


Is an unsuccessful attempt to detain a suspect by use of physical force a "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment or must physical force be successful in detaining a suspect to constitute a "seizure"?

The Rules

This competition has two stages, which mirror the process by which attorneys litigate cases. 

Stage One: The Briefing and Oral Arguments

A team of two students will be responsible for writing an appellate brief arguing for either the petitioner or the respondent, as well as completing an oral argument video. The brief and video will be due by February 22, 2021.You can see the winning briefs from 2012201320142015201620172018, and 2019.

Stage Two: The Tournament

The Harlan Institute and Ashbrook will select the top sixteen teams supporting the Petitioner and Respondent, and seed them for the oral argument semifinals in April 2021. All teams will compete in a virtual oral argument session over Zoom judged by the Harlan Institute and Ashbrook. Only teams that submit briefs that fully comply with all of the rules will be considered for oral argument. You can see the videos from the 20122013201420152016 20172018, and 2019 competitions.

Historically, the final round of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition has been held at the Georgetown Supreme Court Institute in Washington, D.C. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot plan an in-person gathering. As a result, we will host the championship round over Zoom in May 2021. The competition will be judged by a panel of expert judges, including lawyers, university level debate champions, and legal scholars.

The Prizes

Grand Prize—The Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS

The members of top Petitioner and Respondent teams will be invited to attend the Ashbrook Academy on the Supreme Court and the Constitution in June 2021. Ashbrook will cover reasonable travel costs to the academy. Members of the winning team will each receive a $500 Amazon gift card. Members of the runner-up team will each receive a $250 gift card.


Members of the sixteen semifinalist teams will each receive a $25 gift card.


Coaches can register their teams at the Institute of Competition Sciences. Read the problem, and get started! Good luck.

Please send any questions to