Constance Baker Motley National Student Writing Competition


Constance Baker Motley

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.

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: census report, civil legal aid, civil liberties, constitutional convention, consumer rights, criminal justice, disability rights, freedom of speech, immigration, indigent defense, money in politics (including judicial elections), labor law, LGBTQ+ rights, privacy, protection of health, safety, and the environment, racial equality, religion, role of state attorneys general, second amendment and guns, separation of powers and federalism, women’s reproductive rights and reproductive freedom, voting and political process, and whistleblower protection.

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

2023 Results

Confirmed Judge Panel:

  • Hon. Nata Cornelio, Judge, Texas 351st District Court
  • Hon. Cheryl Ann Krause, Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
  • Amy Fettig, Executive Director, Sentencing Project
  • Professor Kermit Roosevelt, David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice, University of Pennsylvania Carley Law School
  • Professor Bertrall Ross, Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virgina Law School

Other Finalists:

Looking Backward To Move Forward: Ending the “History and Tradition” of Gun Violence Against the LGBTQ+ Community, Brett Ries, Duke University School of Law

An Invitation to Tell the Truth:  Why America Needs A Truth & Reconciliation Commission, Summer Wright, California Western School of Law

Balancing out the Scales: Improving Police Accountability Through Court Reform of False Arrest Probable Cause Jurisprudence, Gabriel Scavone, The George Washington University Law School.

Expanding Unions: The Case for Changing the National Labor Relations Act’s Definition of Employee, Alec Bosnic, University of Pittsburgh School of Law

Competition Details

Applicant Qualifications: The competition is open to all law students who are current, dues-paying ACS National members.

Judging Criteria: Papers will be judged on their effective use, analysis, and expansion of legal scholarship. Possible paper topics include, but are not limited to, voting rights, civil liberties, freedom of speech, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, labor, money in politics, racial equality, religious freedom, Second Amendment, or the roles of state attorney generals. The selection committee will include federal judges and leading academics.

Scholarship Prize: The winning paper author will be awarded $3,000 and each of the 2 runners-up will receive $1,000. The winning authors of the top 3 papers will be featured during the 2024 ACS National Convention and on ACS’s website and social media platforms. The top paper also receives an offer of publication in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law.

Application Instructions and Materials: Application details for the 2024 competition will be released in the fall.

Past Competitions

For past competition winners, click here.