U-M Law School looks to the stars with its newest moot court team

Matthew Thornburg (left), Morgan Brown and  Joshua Raftis are members of MLaw’s new Space Law Moot Court Team.

Photo courtesy of U-M Law

By Jordan Poll
U-M Law

What do you think about when you look up at the stars? Beauty, vastness, the unknown? Members of Michigan Law’s Space Law Moot Court Team—3L Morgan Brown and 2Ls Joshua Raftis and Matthew Thornburg—spend their free time pondering the reach of the law beyond our atmosphere. And, this past spring, they presented those arguments before some of the most influential individuals in the field at the annual Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition in Washington, D.C.

“We have greatly improved since that first year,” said Brown, who enjoyed the opportunity to network with NASA attorneys and JAG representatives from the U.S. Air Force. “We know more about how the competition works and how to apply the laws to our arguments. Because of that, we placed far better than our previous year. It’s only up from here.”

While the Space Law Moot Court Team is limited to three members, Brown, Raftis, and Thornburg encourage interested students to apply—particularly 1Ls looking to gain practical experience researching and presenting an oral argument in a moot court setting—by joining the Society for Space Law and Law of the Sea, which supports the moot court team.

“Working with this team—spending four months researching, two months writing memorandums, and a month practicing our presentation—really helped me gain a mastery in these areas that I would not otherwise possess so early on in my academic career,” said Raftis, who joined the Space Law Moot Court Team to dive into a fascinating subject and up-and-coming legal field.

“It’s no longer restricted to a field of esoteric academic interests, especially as more corporations such as SpaceX are increasingly involved and becoming much more practical. There is a growing need for lawyers who have some type of background or experience in this field.”

Compared to other specialized areas of practice, space law is not only uncommon but also fairly new to the legal sphere.

“Most people don’t realize that space law exists—I didn’t until I joined the Society for Space Law and Law of the Sea,” said Thornburg.

 Michigan Law’s Society for Space Law and Law of the Sea is a student organization that strives to provide the student body with opportunities to deepen their understanding of the policy and legal context governing the use of space and the sea.

“Many are surprised to find out that there are international treaties regarding the exploration of space and that the field is not just make-believe. The privatization of space exploration is here and rapidly growing,” said Brown, former president of the organization.

Having written her undergraduate senior research project on the commercialization of Mars, she was intrigued by the Society for Space Law and Law of the Sea when she arrived at Michigan Law. She joined the group as a 1L and the Space Law Moot Court Team soon after. Her passion and leadership led Raftis and Thornburg to follow in her footsteps.

“Because people don’t realize the importance of topics like space law—that it is an actual conversation being had, especially in law—the organization is still in its infancy. But there is a lot of potential we are actively working to cultivate,” said Brown, who has helped to host speakers, coordinate public events to spread awareness of both space law and the group’s existence, and initiated the Law School’s participation in the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition.

“It’s an exciting time for us and not just because of advancements in the field. Our members, especially the 1Ls, are amazing. They are excited and eager to get things done. We’ve also received research inquiries from individuals outside of the Law School—they see that Michigan Law has a Society for Space Law and Law of the Sea and instinctively give us credibility—which means great new connections and projects to be involved in.”

There is still a lot to wonder about space, but with the support of the Society for Space Law and Law of the Sea, the members of Michigan Law’s Space Law Moot Court Team want to remain at the forefront of the field’s legal frontier even if their career paths lead them elsewhere.

“I may not ultimately practice space law, but having since been inspired by my involvement with the moot court team, it is an interest I will continue to pursue,” said Thornburg. “Currently, five treaties developed in the Sixties and Seventies govern nearly everything as it relates to our use of space. You can see how they’ll struggle to apply to modern advances, such as space tourism.
For me, how the treaties will attempt to remain relevant, or if new treaties will be developed, will be interesting to follow.

“I look forward to seeing how this field evolves over the years even if I am not actively practicing it.”