Stephen Vukovits, a former Tocqueville Fellow and Constitutional Studies alumnus, is currently pursuing a law degree at the University of Chicago. This spring, he was awarded the prestigious Hinton Cup after winning the UChicago moot court trial competition.
Hosted each year for 2L and 3L students with a round in each academic quarter, Vukovits entered the competition last fall. Through each round, students argued recent Supreme Court cases in front of UChicago alumni and lawyers. In the final round, Vukovits and his partner, Jaden Lessnick, argued Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota in front of three federal judges who flew in to adjudicate the competition.
“It was a really great experience to put the skills that I had learned in college and law school to the test, both in the writing of briefs and in the oral advocacy component,” he said.
Vukovits graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2021 with a major in economics and minors in Constitutional Studies, Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), and the Hesburgh Program of Public Service. In undergrad, he began to gravitate towards policy and politics through classes like Constitutional Law with CCCG director Vincent Phillip Muñoz and Moot Court Seminars with Professor Matthew Hall.
He credits the skills he learned as a Notre Dame undergraduate — particularly in Professor Matthew Hall’s moot court seminars — for his success in the moot court trial competition.
“As an undergrad, that was a great way of getting us to develop critical thinking skills, the ability to respond to complex questions on the spot, and develop legal arguments. Lots of those skills translated over to the competition,” Vukovits said.
During his freshman year at Notre Dame, Vukovits learned about the Tocqueville Fellowship and the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government (CCCG) and promptly applied. He remembers deeply enjoying the intellectual curiosity fostered by CCCG programming, especially on the intersection between politics, business, and Catholic social teaching.
Following graduation, Vukovitzs decided to attend the University of Chicago Law School because of its “great reputation for really valuing free speech, open dialogue, and … genuinely tak[ing] the law seriously and really trying to grapple with what it means for our society.”
At UChicago, Vukovits is a staff member of the University of Chicago Law Review and a member of the Edmund Burke Society, St. Thomas More Society, and Law Students for Life. Groups like these are some of Vukovits’ favorite parts of UChicago. Though the groups often invite speakers who might seem controversial to some students, Vukovits said that “for the most part, people are willing to engage … Sure, [the speakers] might get tough questions, but at least people take them seriously and are willing to hear their ideas.”
Vukovits says that the Supreme Court’s increased focus on originalism has led to increased tensions within the law school, but he’s “been pleasantly surprised to see people actually willing to engage on the issues.”
Throughout his time in school, Vukovits has grown more interested in learning about the intersection of law and policy: “I’ve found that the practice of being an attorney — the strategy and the synthesis that goes into pulling together different precedents and thinking about how you want to argue a case — has really intrigued me.”
He hopes to be able to use his education to ask questions about the common good, the development of law over time, and how to best maintain allegiance to an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.
“At the end of the day, it’s important to get the law right, because it affects everyday life … trying to piece together all those considerations has always been interesting to me,” he said.
This summer, Vukovits is working as a summer associate at the Washington D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis. After graduation, he will clerk for the Hon. William H. Pryor Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Contributed by CCCG Writing Fellow Merlot Fogarty.