Ames Semi-Final Round
The Ames Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for appellate brief writing and advocacy in the country. The students participating in the Semi-Final Round started the competition in fall of this year, and rose to the final four spots through their strong research abilities and excellent written and oral advocacy.
The presiding judges for the 2018 Ames Semi-Final Round are listed below, along the competitors, a short summary of each case, and each team’s briefing. Oral argument will take place on March 19 and March 20 at 6:15pm in the Ames Courtroom.
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Carla Espinosa and Bobby Simone v. the City of Ames and Commissioner Robert Kelso
The Honorable William C. Bryson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
The Honorable Amy C. Barrett of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
The Honorable Joseph A. Greenaway of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
The Grace Murray Hopper Memorial Team (Appellant)
The Belva Ann Lockwood Memorial Team (Appellee)
Plaintiffs Carla Espinosa and Bobby Simone are bilingual residents of the City of Ames and former employees of the Ames Police Department. In August of 2015, roughly eight months after Robert “Bob” Kelso took office as Police Commissioner, the APD announced a new policy requiring all on-duty employees to speak English unless necessary to their job duties. Commissioner Kelso cited the furtherance of cooperation, the fostering of good will in the community, and the reduction of harassment as reasons underlying the policy, and notified all APD officers that failure to follow the policy would result in discipline and possible termination.
On September 9, 2015, the Department formally notified Espinosa and Simone that they had been repeatedly observed violating the English-only policy. The two highly decorated detectives often worked together on cases involving Spanish-speaking victims and suspects, and would frequently discuss those cases with each other in Spanish. Espinosa and Simone filed an administrative appeal, which was denied, and were suspended for one week without pay. After returning to work on November 23, 2015, the officers continued to speak Spanish while on duty, and were again notified of their violations on December 10, 2015. Facing demotion and a two-week unpaid suspension, both Espinosa and Simone resigned from the APD.
After filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and receiving a right-to-sue letter on March 1, 2016, Espinosa and Simone filed suit against the APD and Commissioner Kelso on March 15, 2016, alleging that the English-only policy had a disparate impact on employees on the basis of race and national origin, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that it was enacted with the knowing and malicious intent to discriminate against employees on the basis of race and national origin, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In support of the second count in particular, Espinosa and Simone pointed to certain statements made in 2014 during the Ames mayoral campaign by then-candidate, now-Mayor Perry Cox. For example, at a campaign event, Cox said “Latinos, if they come here, they need to learn English or they need to go back to Mexico or Havana or wherever they came from. If they’re not smart enough to learn our language, they’re not smart enough to live here, work here, or get any government benefits here.” At another event, Cox lamented a perceived decline in the quality of the APD, and pointed specifically to the practice of speaking languages other than English as one of the causes.
Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion on the first count and the defendants’ motion on the second, finding that the English-only policy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and was invalid but that no reasonable jury could conclude it was enacted with the intent to discriminate. Espinosa and Simone have appealed, and the two questions for the Court are:
- Whether the English-only policy had a disparate impact on the basis of race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; and
- Whether the English-only policy was enacted with the intent to discriminate on the basis of race and national origin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Council of the Town of Wendell v. Felix Monk
The Honorable Raymond J. Lohier of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
The Honorable Beryl A. Howell of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
The Honorable Margaret A. Ryan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
The Clarence Earl Gideon Memorial Team (Appellant)
The Constance Baker Motley Memorial Team (Appellee)
The Town of Wendell in the State of Ames is governed by an elected seven-member Council. The Council holds bi-weekly meetings to handle city business and hear from constituents. Starting in 2013, the Council began the practice of opening its meetings with an invocation, almost always in the form of a Christian prayer, given by one member of the Council to all persons in attendance. Typically, the councilmember would request that all present stand and bow their heads, then pray for one to two minutes for guidance and wisdom in the discharge of their duties. No faith but Christianity was ever invoked, and many prayers involved specific references to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and specific passages of the Bible.
Felix Monk moved to Wendell in 2014 to teach at the City College. Monk describes himself as “anti-religious,” and his scholarship focuses on the rights of religious minorities. After a string of hate-crime incidents against Muslim shopkeepers in 2016, Monk attended multiple Council meetings and testified at one, suggesting the creation of a police training and outreach program to make Wendell’s minority residents feel safe and protected in the community. After attending those meetings, Monk complained to several councilmembers that the prayer practice was improperly sectarian and possibly a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Those councilmembers dismissed his concerns, and the Council as a whole chose not to modify the practice.
In February of 2017, Monk filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of the Establishment Clause and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as nominal damages and attorney fees. Three months after that suit, the Council discussed the propriety of its prayer practice at one of its biweekly meetings, with numerous speakers in favor of and opposed to the practice. Two weeks later, the next Council meeting did not begin with a prayer, but with a invocation asking for prayers from those who prayed, and support and good will from those who did not. And during that meeting, the Council passed a resolution stating that future meetings would begin with a “non-sectarian statement of purpose and good will,” with eight votes in favor and one against.
The Council then moved to dismiss Monk’s suit on two separate grounds. First, they argued that the change to the prayer practice renders the entire case moot, and second, they argue that Monk has failed to allege a violation of the Establishment Clause. The district court found in favor of Monk on both questions, concluding that the case is not moot thanks to the continued viability of his claim for nominal damages and that, taking the allegations in the complaint as true, the Council had in fact violated the Establishment Clause. The Ames Circuit granted interlocutory review on these two issues:
- Whether plaintiff’s claim for nominal damages saves his case from mootness; and
- Whether the complaint states a valid claim for violations of the Establishment Clause.
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