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Created: February 13, 2002
Latest Update: February 13, 2002

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A Critical Theory Approach to Social Justice

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individaul Authors, February 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.


Welcome to the 2002 Performance of the Stanley Mosk Undergraduate Moot Court Competition at California State University, Dominguez Hills. In 2002 we have made some changes to Moot Court to adapt it more effectively to the needs of an undergraduate liberal arts program in the basics of legal reasoning and argument. We have removed the competitive element altogether, in keeping with our judging panel's advice over the years, since 1987. It took us a while to figure out how to remove competitiveness from a competition, but this year, we think we have managed.

From the beginning of this moot court, in 1987, we adapted the project to our undergraduate liberal arts program, in that we did not ask our students to do the legal research and write briefs on their own. They did not have the background of the first year of law school to guide them, so we thought it better that they develop oral skills of argument from a common legal brief prepared for them. This refocused the competition onto oral performance, which seemed appropriate, given that law school moot courts often have separate research teams to prepare the briefs for competition.

Early in the program we realized one of the advantages of the project was that students developed quickly a sense of what was and what was not a solid legal argument. They developed this ability much more quickly than we had anticipated, and we recognized the importance of this factor in general training for representative government. Although many of our undergraduate students will not go on to legal careers, they will go on to take roles of responsibility in their local communities. The ability to judge the sincerity and the rational solidity of arguments means that these young people will be better equipped to deal with "experts," who sometimes follow their own agendas and rely on their expertise to obfuscate. A project that gives our students practice in spotting such "grandstanding" gives valuable experience for community building.

Later, as the project developed, we deplored the fact that only four students were permitted to argue in finals with our judging panel. That created a competitiveness that Allan McKenzie, our first Chief Justice of Moot Court, and the project director deplored. Our judging panel, already in 1987, had refused to rank the four finalists, and rightly so. We weren't looking for a future star in legal performance, we were building skills and experience in the use of legal argument.

In a separate effort to build reasoning skills in writing, we introduced a teaching website, Dear Habermas, with the general appearance in English of Juergen Habermas' Between Facts and Norms, a text that sought legitimacy through the legal system and through public discourse based on rational thought. Three years into that project, students began to show comfort with writing and critical analysis.

This year, we have merged the two projects into a moot court aimed, not at courtroom legal argument, not at winning one's case, but at enabling public discourse, enabling argument in which all validity claims are considered in good faith, with the objective of multicultural understanding that will permit all people to live together without war, without killing, in mutual acceptance of their differences.

To that end the 2002 problem will address: A Critical Theory Approach to Social Justice. We will consider in particular:

  1. mutual respect for agency (decision-making within one's sphere of control)

  2. how that agency is recognized with young people in higher education

  3. how control of the structural context can remove agency and mutual respect

  4. how such domination affects both the corporate control seen in the Enron collapse and the present war against terrorism.