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Winners announced in O’Hanlon essay contest

Oct. 05, 2013 @ 11:14 PM

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON — Laurel Peace, a sophomore education major from Proctorville, Ohio, took first place in the 5th annual Dan O’Hanlon Essay Competition at Marshall University.

Peace received $1,500 and runner-up Adam Shaver, a senior pre-med biology major from Huntington, received $750. The winners were announced in a brief ceremony Monday in the Memorial Student Center’s John Marshall Room on the Huntington campus.

The Dan O’Hanlon Constitution Week and John Marshall Celebration Essay Competition, first conducted in 2009, was created with a $50,000 anonymous donation. Its purpose is to encourage Marshall University undergraduate students to study the historical and contemporary significance of the Constitution of the United States of America and the effect the Marshall court had in establishing the importance of the Supreme Court.

O’Hanlon served as professor and chair of the Marshall University Criminal Justice Department and dedicated his life to the legal system and helping people in the region. Marshall, for whom Marshall University was named, was the third Chief Justice of the United States, serving from Feb. 4, 1801, to his death in 1835. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court became a powerful branch of government that complements the legislative and executive branches.

Peace said she was surprised when informed that she had won.

“I thought there would be a lot of pre-law and political science students entering the contest,” she said. “And I thought that they would have the advantage.” But once she read the material, she became not only interested in the question, but passionate about it. Peace said she hopes to one day be a 6th grade teacher.

Patricia Proctor, director of the Simon Perry Center for Constitutional Democracy, said Shaver is a great leader in Marshall’s Honors College.

“He is very engaging and thoughtful and it came through in his essay,” she said.

This year’s Dan O’Hanlon essay question focused on the work of Louis Michael Seidman, Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown University Law Center and a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.  In his recent book, On Constitutional Disobedience, Seidman argues that we should reconsider whether the U.S. Constitution should be the supreme law of the land or whether we should consider it merely one source of values that influences us in deciding what laws and policies are best for our society.  Students were asked to read his book, and other materials offering different perspectives, and opine on his arguments.

“This question might be considered a bit surprising here at Marshall University, where we spend much of September celebrating both John Marshall’s and the Constitution’s birthdays and even have a Center for Constitutional Democracy,” Proctor said.  “It is useful, however, for all of us to have our conventional assumptions challenged and to revisit whether our ideas can be improved upon.  The students’ essays were a great opportunity for them to think `out of the box’ and they rose to the challenge.”

The students - and the rest of the community - will have the opportunity to meet Professor Seidman Nov. 5 when he will be the featured presenter in the Amicus Curiae Lecture Series sponsored by the Simon Perry Center for Constitutional Democracy, with funding from the West Virginia Humanities Council.




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