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.

Competition Details

Applications are now open for the 2021 Constance Baker Motley Writing Competition.

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

Application Materials:

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.


  • Judge Anita Earls, North Carolina Supreme Court
  • Judge James Graves, 5th Cir., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
  • Elizabeth D. Katz, Associate Professor of Law at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law
  • Saira Mohamed, Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law
  • Kermit Roosevelt, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

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 2021 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 Deadline: February 7, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

2020 Winners

Congratulations to the following winners of 2020 Constance Baker Motley National Student Writing Competition.  Special recognition will be given to the winners at the 2020 ACS National Convention.


  • Tyler Smoot (’21), University of Alabama School of Law, Punishing the Poor: Challenging Carceral Debt Practices Under Beaden and M.L.B.


  • Ben Miller-Gootnick (’21), Harvard Law School, How the House Sues.
  • Rachel Scholz-Bright (’21), Georgetown University Law Center, A Hail Mary for the Administrative State: An Originalist Defense of Chevron Deference.


  • Ellen Bertels (’21), University of Kansas School of Law, Isolation in the Free State: How Kansas Due Process Law Can Protect LGBTQ People From Solitary Confinement
  • Christopher Killmer (’21), Willamette University College of Law, Nothing To Admire: The Consequences of USCIS’ 2018 Notice To Appear (NTA) Policy
  • Allison Lantero (’21), University of Notre Dame Law School, The Curtis Flowers Saga: A Failure of Prosecutorial Accountability
  • William Lawrence (’21), Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, Cloudy With a Need for Warrants: The Unconstitutionality of the Stored Communications Act

ACS thanks Benjamin Brown-Harkins and the University of Pennsylvania Law School ACS Student Chapter for overseeing the judge selection and paper review process.

ACS is grateful to the judging committee for this year’s competition, which included:

  • Hon. Richard Franklin Boulware II, U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada
  • Hon. Edmond Chang, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
  • Hon. Rebecca Dallet, Wisconsin Supreme Court
  • Darren Hutchinson, Raymond & Miriam Ehrlich Eminent Scholar Chair, Professor of Law, and Associate Dean for Faculty Development, University of Florida Levin College of Law; ACS Faculty Advisor
  • Leah Litman, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School; Member, ACS National Board of Academic Advisors
  • Kermit Roosevelt, Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; ACS Faculty Advisor
  • Richard Saenz, Lambda Legal Senior Attorney

Past Competitions

For past competition winners, click here.