The Graton Prize in Constitutional Law

UMaine’s Department of Political Science is fortunate to have at its disposal generous endowments from which to award our most exceptional students. Among these is the Graton Prize, endowed by Claude Dewing Graton, Class of 1900, awarded annually to the best essay responding to a current question in constitutional law. The Graton endowment has ballooned over the years; we now run concurrent contests with multiple awards and a grand prize of $4,000. 

These contests are an excellent way of promoting interest in and careful thinking about constitutional law, a topic that remains unfortunately neglected. Indeed, basic misunderstandings of constitutional government lie at the heart of many of America’s gravest problems. Politicians and publics are increasingly challenging the constitutional order itself by pursuing single-mindedly their preferred policy goals and cultural norms. They are neglecting the value of constitutionalism in its own right, as a framework within which partisan politics can operate without descending into winner-take-all rancor, and as a good that must be balanced against more seemingly pressing objectives.

The Graton Prize helps our students learn to reverse this worrying trend. It encourages consideration of the broader legal order within which the more visible and emotional parts of our politics proceed. 

This year, the grand prize was awarded to Haden Buzzell for an excellent and timely essay looking at the Insurrection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and whether it is applicable to the efforts of former President Trump to stay in office after the 2020 presidential election. We also had strong runner-up contributions from Katherine Flynn and Gabriella Sernyk, whose essays addressed the limits of presidential immunity and the legal doctrine of Chevron deference, respectively. On behalf of the evaluation committee, I congratulate all of this year’s prize winners. 

-Professor Rob Ballingall