By LYNN LOFTON
When Dean Stephen Gorove began the space law program 45 years ago at the University of Mississippi School of Law, he took a bold, forward-thinking step into an emerging field of study. The program has grown and evolved, and the Moot Court team recently won the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court championship at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.
“I think he (Gorove) realized that as we were beginning to reach out with space flights with and without people, we would need some law coordination worldwide,” the Law School Dean Richard Gershon said. “There are a lot of countries involved; who has the liability if something goes wrong? If a satellite fails and crashes, who’s responsible? When you send something up in space, you don’t know where it might go down. Things fail; there are damage disputes; and a lot of regulatory issues.”
Gershon adds that possibly Gorove might not have envisioned how quickly space travel would evolve as non-astronauts are now getting ready to travel to Mars.
“Now there are a lot of practical applications for space law and big law firms are adding a space law department,” he said. “Space law is one of the emerging areas of law and we’re on the cutting edge. Not that many years ago people laughed at the need for intellectual property law, and now I can’t imagine a law firm without it.”
The championship team includes Olivia Hoff of Gulfport and C.J. Robison from Lubbock, Texas, both second-year law students in the space law certificate program, and Ian Perry of Ellis County, Texas, a 2013 J.D. recipient who is working on his space law LL.M.
The team is coached by Michael Dodge, who graduated from the UM space law program in 2008 and teaches U.S. and international space law at Ole Miss. Joining Dodge as assistant coach is Michael Mineiro, an adjunct professor who holds a J.D. from North Carolina along with an LL.M. and D.C.L. from McGill University, and works on space law issues for numerous federal agencies and international organizations.
“I am tremendously proud of the team’s achievement,” Dodge said. “In the upcoming months, I look forward to working to prepare them for the next stage of the competition. I know they will compete admirably, and skillfully represent the University of Mississippi and its long association with space law.”
At the Georgetown competition, Ole Miss technically earned the title of North American Champion and with it the right to represent the continent at the world finals in Jerusalem in October.
“A success like this, in the world’s oldest and most prestigious space law competition, stands out as a highlight on a student’s resume,” Dean Gershon said. “As an international leader in this emerging area of law, Ole Miss helps propel students into careers at government agencies such as NASA and the CIA, as well as positions students for opportunities in the growing private space industry and at companies such as Bigelow Aerospace and SpaceX.”
As North American space law champions, the Ole Miss team will compete in the world finals against schools from Africa, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Three members of the International Court of Justice will serve as judges and hear arguments in a hypothetical case involving an asteroid mining dispute and liability for a failed attempt to divert an asteroid from colliding with Earth.
“The team is working hard to prepare for the world finals,” Gershon said. “They write briefs and then argue the problem with other students and professors. It’s intense and exciting. I’m so proud of them.”
In its 24th year, the competition takes place under the auspices of the International Institute of Space Law. On the road to the championship, the UM law school triumphed over a field that included teams from Georgetown, Nebraska, Hawaii, Temple, St. Thomas, Florida State, University of California at Davis, Arizona State, George Washington University, McGill (in Montreal) and Universidad Sergio Arboleda (Bogota, Colombia).
While all these law schools focus on international law, Ole Miss stands out as one of just a few to offer a program devoted to the law governing aviation, space exploration and satellites. The school’s expertise is embodied in its Journal of Space Law, the conferences it hosts, the service of its graduates in the field and in its curricular programs. Notably, the School of Law features both a J.D.-level certificate program on remote sensing, air and space law, and an advanced LL.M. degree in air and space law, and offers the only advanced law degree program in the United States combining both aviation law and space law.