The 2019 Jeffrey G. Miller National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition

By Aaron Rudyan

On February 21st, fifty-six teams from law schools all over the United States will gather at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law for the thirty-first annual Jeffrey G. Miller National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition.  Every year, law student advocates nationwide assemble to compete in the largest interschool moot court competition under one roof.  Over 200 competitors and 150 attorneys participate by grading briefs and serving as judges for the three-day competition.  The National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition (NELMCC) tests students’ skills in appellate brief writing and oral advocacy.  NELMCC uses issues drawn from real cases to provide students with first-hand experience in environmental litigation while also providing a rigorous academic experience.  The Competition is distinctive in that three adverse teams argue the issues, reflecting the fact that environmental litigation frequently involves multiple parties — the government, a public interest group, and a member of the regulated industry.

This year, the problem delves into complex climate change litigation issues currently being decided by the judiciary.  Specifically, the problem involves the possibility of island nations – both U.S. territories and foreign sovereign states – to prevent further sea level rise which threatens their existence.  With the Defendants being the American-based oil conglomerate, the island nations are bringing claims under the Alien Tort Statute, customary principles of international law, and Fifth Amendment due process rights.  Consequently, the problem involves the complex relationships between numerous fields of law.

To resolve these issues, the teams are expected to research and argue (1) whether the foreign island nation can validly bring a claim under the Alien Tort Statute; (2) whether the Trail Smelter principle is customary international law for the purpose of litigation of the Alien Tort Statute; (3) whether the Alien Tort Statute can apply to non-governmental actors; (4) whether the principle is displaced by the federal Clean Air Act; (5) whether there is a valid Fifth Amendment substantive due process claim against the U.S. government for failing to protect the global atmospheric climate system from disruption due to the production, sale, and burning of fossil fuels; and, (6) whether the island nations’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Fifth Amendment present a non-justiciable political question.

This year, we welcome four federal judges to oversee the final round: the Honorable Kermit V. Lipez of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit; the Honorable Dennis Jacobs, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; the Honorable John K. Bush of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; and the Honorable Mal Mannion of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The competition will last from Thursday, February 21 until Saturday, February 23. The final round will be held on Saturday at 1:30pm in the Judicial Institute Lecture Hall located at the law school.  For more information about this year’s competition, visit


  1. Thanks for this information Aaron! It was great to sit in on some of the arguments this past weekend. I’m already looking forward to next year.

  2. This year’s problem is extremely interesting! I am aware of Juliana v. United States. There, young children are filing suit against the U.S. government based on the public trust doctrine. I really enjoyed the topic of island nations using the Alien Tort Act to file suit. This is especially relevant since many island nations, like the Maldives and Tuvalu are most vulnerable to climate change, due to sea level rise and erosion.

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