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Professor Merritt argues before U.S. Supreme Court

October 5, 2009 | Faculty

Professor Deborah Jones Merritt was the only one making her case before the U.S. Supreme Court Oct. 7, but several others – from her own family to her Moritz one – contributed to the success of her first U.S. Supreme Court argument.

The Court, in Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick, is expected to determine whether a provision in the Copyright Act eliminates federal jurisdiction over unregistered copyright claims. Merritt, the John Deaver Drinko-Baker Hostetler Chair in Law, was hand-selected by the Court to defend the lower court ruling.

A Columbus Dispatch story featuring Merritt and her argument read: “During her presentation, Merritt spoke in a clear and controlled voice, often gesticulating with her left hand. … Even though she was sharply questioned by Justice Stephen Breyer, Merritt stuck to her basic point …”

Moritz alumnus, Stephen Wolfson ’08, and Merritt’s husband, Andrew, who also is an attorney, were co-authors of the 69-page brief. The three, along with Merritt’s 21-year-old son, Dan, won’t forget the all-nighter they pulled leading up to a filing deadline.

“The entire experience was a phenomenal one,” she said. “It was fabulous. It was exhausting. But being there in the courtroom and having the chance to argue a case before the Supreme Court was inspirational.”

Student research assistants helped Merritt locate materials and make final edits to the brief. Moritz students and faculty also provided invaluable feedback while acting as justices during four of Merritt’s practice arguments.

Among the several Moritz faculty members who provided assistance were Mary Beth Beazley, an expert in appellate advocacy; Ed Lee, an expert in copyright law; and Melanie Oberlin, a Moritz research librarian.

3L Bob Bitzenhofer and about a dozen other Moritz students made the trek to Washington, D.C., for the argument, which happened to fall during the College’s fall break. “It was an awesome experience,” Bitzenhofer said. “We all agreed that of all the attorneys we watched argue that day, Professor Merritt was by far the best.”

Merritt even snuck in “Ohio State University” in her oral argument.

“That was the icing on the cake for us,” Bitzenhofer said. “It was great.”