Last week, two talented law school students were recognized at a U.S. Supreme Court reception during the ABA International Section Spring 2013 Meeting, hosted by WestlawNext. The spring meeting is one of the world’s most important gatherings of international lawyers and drew over 1,100 attendees from over 80 countries.

The more than 500 guests at the reception not only heard Justice Scalia speak, but also attended the award ceremony for the Rona R. Mears Writing Competition and Scholarship Awards. The competition encourages law student interest and participation in the practice of International Law and the Section.

The winners of this year’s competition were R. Ethan Hargraves of Liberty University School of Law and Jonathan Markovitz of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law. Their essays gave them a chance to weigh in as amicus curiae on how the court should rule on Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum, 621 F. 3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010), cert. granted, 80 U.S.L.W. 3237 (U.S. Oct. 17, 2011) (No. 10-1491), and addressed the question of whether U.S. courts have jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute to recognize cause of actions outside of the U.S.

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2013 Rona R. Mears Writing Competition winners R. Ethan Hargraves (left) and Jonathan Markovitz at the Supreme Court reception on April 25, 2013

Markovitz is no stranger to the Kiobel case or to the Supreme Court. His passion for the Alien Torts Statute (ATS) runs deep – so deep that he once spent the night outside of the Supreme Court in the rain, waiting with anticipation to hear Kiobel argued. As a student in Paul Hoffman’s International Human Rights clinic at University of California, Irvine, Markovitz had the opportunity to work on Kiobel, helping to prepare for the second round of oral arguments.

“I couldn’t have written this paper without the clinic,” said Markovitz. “Certainly, all of the members of the clinic shaped my thinking about the issues. For me, the award is based on caring so much about the case: about the plaintiffs, and about having a robust ATS. Being given a chance to have those views recognized feels really good. And the idea that the topic is taken seriously means a lot to me.”

For Hargraves, the competition provided an opportunity to build a compelling legal argument, and prove that hard work and risks can pay off. “Writing this article, I put myself out there in many ways and really took a risk – not only with the subject matter, but with my opinion on the subject matter,” he said. “The experience showed me that it’s okay to put myself out there. I’ve never had an honor such as this before. I’m blown away to be recognized in this setting.”

Hargraves’ success did not come without challenges, however. “The subject matter was the most challenging part of the competition,” he explained. “As a lot of courts have recognized, the alien torts statute is a complex statute. Circuit Judge Friendly in  IIT v. Vencap Ltd, went as far as to say the Alien Torts Statute is a ‘legal lohengrin . . . no one seems to know whence it came.’ There’s no legislative history on the statute. The history goes all the way back to the first judiciary act of 1789. Trying to figure out what the framers were thinking when they put this statute out there was really a challenge – using not only the context of the statute itself, but also historical context, and the events it was created in response to.”

More information about the competition can be found on the ABA Section of International Law website.

This article was written by Kati Katzenmeyer, senior marketer for WestlawNext.