Essay contest examines ethics, law, justice

There are many ways in which students may establish credentials for their careers after college. One way is Sonoma State’s Warren Court Essay Competition, which shines a spotlight on ethics, law and justice and encourages excellence in writing.

This year’s first place winner of the Warren Court Essay Competition was political science major Ricky Frankel and the second place winner was philosophy major Dan Lyman. English major Adam Brashears and philosophy major Katherine Merrell received the competition’s honorable mentions.

“I wrote about Aspirationalism, which is a broader way to interpret the Constitution. More specifically, this kind of interpretation sees the Constitution as a ‘living document’ that evolves with society’s views,” said Frankel. 

Frankel won a writing award at the Model UN conference in New York last year for his international-relation based essay. He was then inspired to enter the Warren Court Essay Competition, despite the competition being law and ethics based. 

Second place award winner, Lyman, will be attending law school at the University of San Francisco in the fall. 

“This award gave me the chance to rethink some of my legal and moral arguments which doesn’t hurt as I prepare to devote my life to such issues,” said Lyman.

Lyman was honored to receive the award but did not see a direct impact on his future career plans.

The Warren Court Essay Award has a first place prize of $500, a second place prize of $250 and honorable mentions. There are three people who serve as judges in the competition: the Director of Center for Ethics, Law and Society, Joshua Glasgow, political science professor David McCuan and criminal justice professor Eric Williams.

Lyman credits his inspiration in writing to several teachers he has had at SSU and also his fiancé. 

“I have had several teachers who have inspired my writing, both here at SSU and at other schools,” said Lyman “The real writer in my life, though, is my fiancé. She is a much better writer than I am, and she pushes me to be better, and sometimes helps me develop my ideas into something that someone else can read and understand.”   

 “The question that I sought to answer [in my essay] is whether or not, on an individual level, we should accept religiously motivated justifications for the votes that we cast. This is a recurring issue in politics and it is quite intriguing,” said Lyman. “Does allowing religious justifications give a religious majority the power to create religious laws, and does this violate the separation of church and state? But conversely, if we disregard people’s votes because they come from a place of faith, are we not deeming the concerns of citizens illegitimate based on their religion?”

Dr. Ken Marcus, a professor emeritus at Sonoma State, started the Warren Court Award with a donation. The award’s namesake, Earl Warren was the fourteenth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Marcus taught at in the Political Science and Criminal Justice departments at SSU and is now retired. In his retirement though, Marcus has continued to support Sonoma State students.      

Lyman is the president of Sonoma State’s Philosophy Club and has worked closely with Glasgow throughout the past years 

“He (Glasgow) was the one who invited me to apply for the contest, and I’m glad I did,” said Lyman. “Josh is a great mentor and a great person. I hope this contest continues every year, it’s great to develop a little friendly competition around the philosophy department,” said Lyman.

The award ceremony for the Warren Court Essay Competition will be held on April 29 at noon in the Bennett Valley room of the Student Center.