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Law Student Writing Competition

Eligibility Rules

Submissions must be original works of publishable quality written by a student currently enrolled full- or part-time in a law school in the United States. All submissions must comply with the Harvard Law Review Association’s Bluebook Uniform System of Citation (21st ed.). There is no page limit for entries, although a word count of 3,000 to 5,000 words is suggested.


Deadline/Method of Submission

Submissions must be received by 5:00 p.m. (PST) on May 15, 2018, and must be submitted by email, in both Microsoft Word and PDF formats, and composed in Times New Roman 12-point font, double-spaced. Citations should be included in footnotes, and the essay may include headings and subheadings.

Please email your submission to In the body of the email please include your contact information, the law school you attend, and your expected graduation date. You will be notified via email when your submission is received.



Please direct any questions about the contest to or call (425) 576-0484.



The first place winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize. The second place winner will receive a $3,000 cash prize and the third place winner will receive a $1,000 cash prize. The winner will also be recognized at the Annual Pacific Legal Foundation Gala. PLF will pay for the winner’s reasonable travel costs to attend the gala and will assist with travel arrangements.



Essays will be judged by a panel of PLF attorneys.

A winning essay will be:

  • Adequately researched and properly supported by citations.
  • Effectively organized and articulately written.
  • Thorough, with a minimum of digression, but with potential counterarguments addressed.
  • Persuasive, original, and rigorous.


The winner will be notified by July 15, 2018.

[Photo above: 2016-17 Writing Competition winner Joel Nolette and PLF Senior Attorney Mark Miller, who manages the competition.]

What’s at stake?

Entries must address one of PLF’s topic questions to be eligible for prizes.

Property Rights

An increasing number of local jurisdictions regulate residential rental housing. Some regulations require local government employees to conduct extensive, warrantless inspections of residential rental properties (inside and out) in exchange for a certificate to continue renting the property. Some jurisdictions attempt to force landlords and tenants to agree to warrantless inspections, by fining the landlord and refusing to issue a rental certificate for the property. What are the best constitutional arguments against warrantless searches that can be raised by the landlord and the tenants, with particular emphasis on the Fourth Amendment and the unconstitutional conditions doctrine?


Economic Liberty

In her dissent to the decision in Hettinga v. United States, D.C. Circuit Court Judge Janice Rodgers Brown noted that “the practical effect of rational basis review of economic regulation is the absence of any check on the group interests that all too often control the democratic process.” What are the best arguments justifying the rational-basis standard of review for economic regulation, and what are the best arguments against?


Environmental Law

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it a crime to “knowingly” take an endangered species, with “take” broadly defined to include any act that has an adverse effect on single member of the species or its habitat. At times the government has argued that a defendant need only have knowingly engaged in an act that resulted in a take to commit the crime of take. In these instances, the government suggests that knowledge of each of the elements of offense – that his actions will result in a take and knowledge of the species taken – is unnecessary to prove the crime. At other times, the government has followed the “McKittrick Policy” – that to have the necessary mens rea to commit a criminal take, knowledge of the elements is necessary to prove the crime. What constitutional or statutory concerns (if any) exist with respect to the abandonment of the McKittrick policy?


Free Speech

City recently adopted a democracy voucher program. City mails out four $25 vouchers to each City voter at the start of every municipal election year. The recipients may only use the vouchers as campaign contributions to candidates for City elected office who qualify to receive vouchers under rules set out by the City Ethics and Elections Commission. The voucher program is funded by a dedicated property levy imposed on all property owners. Does the democracy voucher program violate the Constitution? If so, then how? If necessary, address what additional facts or details might affect the constitutionality of the program.