Constance Baker Motley National Student Writing Competition


“Something which we think is impossible now is not impossible in another decade.”
Constance Baker Motley

The American Constitution Society (ACS) and the University of Pennsylvania Law School ACS Chapter host an annual national student writing competition in honor of Constance Baker Motley's legacy. As a civil rights attorney, first woman elected President of the Borough of Manhattan, and the first African-American woman appointed to the federal bench, Motley’s life-long commitment to equality for all aligns with ACS's mission to ensure that law is a force to improve the lives of all people. The deadline for the 2016-17 competition has passed. 

ACS welcomes all student papers furthering and promoting a progressive vision of the Constitution, law, and public policy. Entrants are encouraged to view this topic broadly, and we welcome submissions on a variety of substantive areas. Examples of possible topics include:

  • Civil Legal Aid
  • Civil Liberties
  • Consumer Rights
  • Criminal Justice
  • Disability Rights
  • Education
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Immigration
  • Indigent Defense
  • Human Rights
  • Money in Politics (including Judicial Elections)
  • Labor Law
  • LGBT Rights
  • Privacy
  • Protection of Health, Safety, and the Environment
  • Racial Equality
  • Religion
  • Second Amendment and Guns
  • Separation of Powers and Federalism
  • Women's Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Freedom
  • Voting and Political Process


Confirmed Judge Panel

  • Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, University of California, Berkeley School of Law 
  • Hon. Holly J. Fujie, Superior Court of Los Angeles County in California
  • Hon. (Ret.) Royal Furgeson,  US District Court for Western District of Texas and Dean of University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law
  • Hon. Jesse Furman, US District Court for the Southern District of New York
  • Prof. Katherine Macfarlane, University of Idaho College of Law
  • Prof. Olivier Sylvain, Fordham Law School


  • Hana Sahdev, Boston College Law School; Juvenile Miranda Waivers and Wrongful Convictions.


  • Rosemarie Aleman, University of North Carolina School of Law;  Domestic Violence in Cyberspace: The Legal Implications of Revenge Pornography & the Need for Criminalization.
  • Sarah Kramer, University of Pennsylvania Law School; Not Your Mouthpiece: Abortion, Ideology, and Compelled Speech in Physician-Patient Relationships.

Other Finalists

  • Ashley Blas, University of Toledo College of Law; The Danger of Silence: How the Political Activities Prohibition Negatively Affects Nonprofit Domestic Violence Organizations and the Case for Broader Federal Protection. 
  • Zachary N. Ferguson, Duke University School of Law; Rule 24 Notwithstanding; Why Article III Should Not Limit Intervention of Right.
  • Neal Modi, University of Virginia School of Law; Toward an International Right Against Self-Incrimination: Expanding the Fifth Amendment's "Compelled."
  • James Tyer, University of Florida Levin College of Law; Republican Government and Positive Rigth to Vote. 


Papers were judged on the quality of their analysis and writing. The judging committee will include federal judges and leading academics. The student authors of the top three papers will receive special recognition at the ACS National Convention in the summer of 2017 and a cash prize for their work. The winner will be awarded $3,000. Each of the two runners-up will receive $1,000.             The top paper will also receive an offer of publication in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law.

Please review the 2017 Competition Theme & Submission Requirements before submitting your entry, which should be sent along with the 2017 Submission Form. An FAQ sheet on the writine competition can be found here


Click here more information about the Richard D. Cudahy Writing Competition on Regulatory and Administrative Law.


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University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law

University of Pennsylvania ACS Chapter