Sophomore Ryan Kelly Murphy won the 2017 Edward Everett Prize in Oratory and $3,000 for her speech about judicial review Tuesday. Freshman Michelle Reid won second place and $2,000, and freshman Joel Meng took third, winning $1,000.
“The most important thing in discerning a winner is who argued most convincingly and had the most evidence, because it’s the historical content, it’s the evidence, that wins us over in the end,” said Don Tocco, a friend of Hillsdale College and an Everett oratory competition judge. “But even with the evidence, you have to have the personal conviction, the enthusiasm, the passion, the energy on the stage to drive that into the audience.”
Murphy, Reid, and Meng were among five finalists selected to compete in Tuesday’s last round of competition, along with sophomore Joshua Hoover and junior Kyle Huitt. Roughly 70 people attended to hear the contestants discuss the topic “Is the Supreme Court the final arbiter of the Constitution?”
“I want to present what I have to say to the best of my ability with the most articulation, while being persuasive,” Murphy said. “It’s just a whirlwind when you’re up there. You kind of zone everything out, even the audience, and you’re just focused on getting your message out in a powerful way.”
Murphy argued that constitutional interpretation is the role of the people and the states rather than the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court is not the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution,” Murphy said in her speech. “The idea of it as ultimate arbiter actually conflicts with the idea of our government as a democratic republic.”
Reid argued that the Supreme Court is the Constitution’s just and rightful arbiter, citing Alexis de Tocqueville and others. She said the Supreme Court defends the rights of the citizens, protecting them from laws that violate their rights.
“I didn’t really have expectations going in,” Reid said about participating in the competition. “It went by so fast. It was a lot less intimidating doing it than I thought it would be.”
Meng also argued that the Supreme Court is the most effective way to arbitrate the Constitution, citing research showing that most Supreme Court rulings are unanimous and that disapproval of the court fluctuates widely in both parties.
“For all its flaws, the Supreme Court remains the best way to arbitrate the Constitution,” Meng said. “If you want to know what Americans think of the Supreme Court, it depends when, not who, you ask…People aren’t really paying attention to the quality of legal rulings. They care about whether the court went their way.”
Meng said he was well aware of the audience during his presentation. He said he had special concern about one judge’s opinion — President Larry Arnn.
“I hope Dr. Arnn doesn’t judge me too hard,” he said.
The “superb” performance by Hillsdale’s top five speakers was edifying for the audience, Tocco said.
“For those who were not here today, I say you missed a great opportunity to see Hillsdale’s finest at work on the stage,” Tocco said. “Come back next year, be with us, enjoy the professionalism and the intelligence and the high skill level of the students that go here.”