By Chris McGuinness

Fort Hood Herald

Four Killeen Independent School District high school students put their debating skills to the test last week when they participated in a moot-court competition at Fort Hood.

Teams comprised of two students each from Harker Heights and Ellison high schools made their case to a moot Supreme Court at the Lawrence J. Williams Judicial Center for the final round of a moot-court tournament hosted by the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate III Corps, Fort Hood.

After beating out other teams at their respective schools, the teams went head-to-head in a courtroom on post, and argued a freedom of speech case to a panel of five justices made up of military lawyers from Fort Hood as well as military and civilian judges.

During their arguments, the panel was able to question all four students as they spoke.

"It was a little nerve-wracking at first, and I was a little nervous when I started," said Peter Wilson, a 17-year-old junior who was on the Ellison team. "But I like to talk, and I got more comfortable from there."

Moriah Pratt, a member of the Harker Heights team, said she and her partner, Elizabeth Kushnereit, prepared for arguments and the questions from the panel by carefully researching their case and finding similar cases to use as a precedent for their argument.

"We really worked to find cases that supported our argument, and worked out what we would focus on," said Pratt, a 17-year-old senior.

Both girls are on their school's debate team, but the element of being questioned by the panel introduced a new dynamic, said Debby Haren, the Harker Heights High School debate coach.

"I think it was good preparation for them," she said. "You don't know what kind of questions (the panel) is going to have."

While the panel ruled in favor of the Ellison team, all five members applauded the students for their preparation and presentation.

"They did an outstanding job articulating the facts of the case," said Maj. Will Brown, a military lawyer who sat on the panel. "We are proud of what you have done, and you actually exceeded our expectations," he added, speaking to the students.

Brown emphasized the importance of youth learning about the American judicial system, the Constitution and their own rights as citizens of the United States.

"It's important for all Americans to understand how the Constitution protects them, and what their rights are," said Brown. "The sooner they learn that, the better off they will be."

The competition in the courtroom was followed by a luncheon, where the Harker Heights High School team was announced winner of this year's moot-court tournament.

Other Law Day events observed by the Fort Hood Bar Association included a legal-oriented film festival.

Contact Chris McGuinness at or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.

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