Law professor argues in Supreme Court

Brooke Vincent

On a routine call with CNN as a Supreme Court analyst, Stephen Vladeck heard from the newsroom that his petition to present a case before the Supreme Court had been accepted; a decision only made for one percent of all submissions.

Delivering his first ever oral argument, UT law professor Vladeck led a team representing the prosecution in the Dalmazzi, Cox and Ortiz et al. v. United States case on Jan. 16, after a year of preparation.

“It was so surreal,” Vladeck said. “This is my 13th year teaching and you talk about the justices all the time, but there’s something about standing there when the court is a captive audience and all eyes are on you. This is your chance to directly impact the progress of the law, which as a scholar is the most you can hope for.”

Vladeck and his co-counsel questioned the legality of an officer being both a military judge and a civilian judge simultaneously, as well as their ability to sit as part of a panel that court-martialed their clients.

Throughout the summer, Lucy Lyford, a research assistant and third-year law student, helped Vladeck with textual support and background. She said being in the same room with the brightest legal minds left her in awe.

“I got experience that a lot of lawyers haven’t had the opportunity to do,” Lyford said. “It builds a lot of confidence to know that I could work on a case that’s complicated and contribute something.”

Fellow UT law professor Lynn Blais, who sat on one of the five moot court panels for Vladeck’s case, said the characteristics that make Vladeck a good professor and good in an oral argument are one and the same.

“I think, by nature, he has the appropriate kind of intellectual vitality that lends itself to have a good rapport with people who are questioning him with challenging questions,” Blais said.

The final decision from the court is expected in May or June before the justices wrap up the session. Vladeck said he thinks they lost the case, but would not change anything he did.

“There are values, certainly, that I’ll take away for teaching,” Vladeck said. “Justice Kennedy asked me if Marbury v. Madison was rightly decided. It’s incredibly helpful for students to see that these academic questions still matter to judges and justices in the real world.”