Ames Final Round

The Ames Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for appellate brief writing and advocacy in the country. The students participating in the Final Round started the competition in fall of their 2L year.  Two teams progressed to the Final Round through their strong research abilities and excellent written and oral advocacy. The Final Round is traditionally judged by this country’s preeminent jurists. Past Ames Competition winners include Professor Cass Sunstein, Dean Kathleen Sullivan, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and Justice Harry Blackmun. Click here for a list of past winners of the Competition.

This year’s competition will be held on the evening of Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the historic Ames Courtroom of Harvard Law School. The presiding judges this year are:

  • The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
  • The Honorable Ilana Diamond Rovner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
  • The Honorable Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

This year’s finalist teams are:

The Martin D. Ginsburg Memorial Team (Petitioner)

Gerard Justin Cedrone, Oralist
Jeremy M. Feigenbaum
Caitlin Halpern
Wookie Kim
Ashwin Phatak, Oralist
Jillian Sheridan Stonecipher

The Constance Baker Motley Memorial Team (Respondent)

Nikolas Bowie, Oralist
Alison Deich
Dena Haibi
Lucas Issacharoff
Andrew Rohrbach, Oralist
Kyle Wirshba

The case this year is Jimenez v. Holder.  A brief description of the case is below.

While still a teenager, Martin Jimenez fled his native El Salvador to escape forcible recruitment into the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. He entered this country illegally, arriving in Ames to live with his uncle. There, he was caught and detained by immigration authorities. During his removal proceedings, Jimenez argued that he is eligible for asylum because he fears persecution as a member of a “particular social group,” i.e., young men from El Salvador who resist recruitment into MS-13.

Jimenez retained experienced immigration practitioner Marsha Boyle to represent him. However, due to a misunderstanding regarding the retainer agreement, Jimenez was actually represented by law student Melissa Doyle. All parties agree that Doyle provided capable representation, but her appointment was contrary to an administrative regulation restricting law student representation, and also a statute permitting immigrants to be represented by the counsel of their choice.

Jimenez’s asylum claim failed at the administrative level because the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has adopted a standard that members of any “particular social group” must be “socially visible,” i.e., identifiable as members. The BIA has applied this standard since at least 2006. Jimenez does not meet that standard because young men who resisted recruitment in MS-13 are not readily identifiable as a group. After he lost, Jimenez discovered that he had been represented by a law student; he therefore brought a motion to reopen the proceedings, arguing that he was denied the right to counsel. But the motion was denied on the ground that the error had not resulted in prejudice.

On Jimenez’s appeal, the Ames Circuit affirmed, finding the “social visibility” test to be a reasonable reading of the statute, and finding that Jimenez did not meet it. The court also held that the denial of the right to counsel of one’s choice is not reversible error if the immigrant cannot show actual prejudice from the denial. Because Doyle did a good job, the court held that there was no prejudice in this case. Both rulings implicate circuit splits, and Jimenez petitioned for certiorari.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari on two questions:

1.  Whether an applicant for asylum claiming fear of persecution on account of his or her membership in a “particular social group” must show that the group has “social visibility.”

2.  Whether an applicant for asylum denied the right to the counsel of his or her choosing in immigration proceedings must show that the denial resulted in actual prejudice in order to obtain relief.

The Final Round Record and Briefs can be accessed below:

Jimenez v. Holder Record

Brief for Petitioner

Brief for Respondent

Reply Brief for Petitioner

For more information, please email