UChicago law students win Supreme Court prediction contest

A team of University of Chicago Law School students recently won a contest among top law schools to predict the outcome of several United States Supreme Court cases, held by SCOTUSblog and Bloomberg Law.

While predictions are never an exact science, the winning students cited their teammates’ understanding of how the Court works as having given them an edge.

“We all had diverse areas of expertise, which was helpful because the cases they chose were from all corners of the law,” said team captain Marci Haarburger, JD’12.

Haarburger, Lily Becker, Mark Geiger, Josh Parker and John Wasserman, all 2012 graduates of the Law School, made up one of 15 total teams from UChicago, Columbia Law School, Harvard Law School and Yale Law School that competed in the inaugural U.S. Supreme Court Prediction Competition. They won a $5,000 prize for not only being the top student team, but for also besting the experts from SCOTUSblog.

“My teammates are really engaged, very intelligent and follow the Supreme Court,” said Wasserman. “Part of it was also luck, I’m sure.”

The winning group, dubbed “Put Up Your Wal-Mart v. Dukes”—a pun on last summer’s big class-action Supreme Court case, analyzed the nine different Supreme Court cases chosen by the sponsors. Five of the cases were “merits” predictions, with teams having to pick the Court’s decision, vote count and individual justice positions. The remaining four cases were “certs,” or certiorari, predictions, with teams needing to forecast whether the high court would choose to review the case.

Before making their decisions, the team members independently read over opinions from the lower courts, read SCOTUSblog summaries of the cases and then met to predict the cases together.

“It made me pay attention to the cases that receive less coverage in both the mainstream media and in legal circles,” said Haarburger, who will be doing a 10-week fellowship at the AIDS Legal Council in Chicago before joining law firm Sidley Austin in Washington, D.C. “It added to my knowledge of each justice’s judicial philosophy, which is what we used, in large part, to make our decisions.”

According to Haarburger, their most perfect merit prediction was for Dorsey v. United States, aided by the fact that three of the five team members where taking a class that discussed the justices’ various views on retroactivity of new laws, which was at issue in Dorsey. They also correctly predicted that three of the four cert petitions would be denied, although she admits that chances were on their side since the Supreme Court generally grants less than 10 percent of all petitions it considers.

“It was nice to have gotten familiar with some of the cases and know what is coming up in the Supreme Court schedule,” said Wasserman, who will work in litigation at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease in Cincinnati.

“It was also interesting to be waiting with bated breath for our competition results on SCOTUSblog and Bloomberg Law at the same time as many others were visiting the sites waiting for results of the Affordable Care Act case,” laughed Wasserman, referring to the landmark decision that came down just days before their prediction results were posted.