Welcome to Baladna (Arabic for "our country"), an entirely fictitious country located somewhere in Europe. Being a relatively young nation, Baladna has only two laws on the books, in addition to its constitution. Despite that, it has a well-assembled bench of justices that was narrowed down after an audition process. As such, NYUAD juniors Meike Radler and Leah Reynolds and sophomores Jamie Sutherland and Lauren Horst were recently joined by Chief Justice (and NYU President) John Sexton and renowned debate coach Aaron Timmons for Baladna's first-ever Supreme Court session.
The Court was called to determine the constitutionality of a law that prohibited hate speech. Both the counsel and the prosecution had 20 minutes to present their cases for and against the law, however they spent the majority of this time responding to questions posed by the justices requiring clarifications in their argumentation.
The idea for this mock Supreme Court was born out of a number of contemporary debates on rights versus responsibilities as well as discussions from Sexton's Relationship of Government and Religion class, which focuses on the findings from cases from the Supreme Court of the United States. The latter influence was apparent in the flowing robes donned by the justices as well as the (mostly) ornamental gavels on the justices' bench. Baladna's constitution — which includes aspects of both the American and European definitions of free speech — was compiled by Angela Migally, NYUAD deputy director of the University's Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Scholars Program.
Ultimately, the trial win was awarded to the counsel. Morgante Pell, NYUAD Class of 2016 was awarded best speaker after an impressive effort as the only speaker on the prosecutor's bench (his co-prosecutor had fallen ill). "The experience, while challenging, was a fantastic way to push my brain in a new direction through digesting, in a short period of time, a whole swath of principles and facts," he said.
Pell was also challenged by the demanding nature of preparation. "It [preparing] essentially constituted a mini-class, with hundreds of pages of court opinions which had to be scrutinized closely," he said. "It was, however, an interesting peek into the work (and loss of sleep) that a career in law can demand."
In between end-of-semester exam review sessions, each of the justices is busily preparing their opinions to submit to the Court to provide the first precedential case law for the state of Baladna. Unfortunately for Baladna, the fact that this law was struck down means that the nation is now governed by just a single law; however, the justices signalled that their opinions would strongly recommend the laws be revised and expanded in the future. There is even talk of the creation of a mock legislature for budding politicians to bolster Baladna's legal system.