Banner Graphic Images: Background: U.S. Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C. - Left: Excerpt from page 9 (emphasis added) of the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, May 17, 1954. Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration - Right: A nearly empty hallway at Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas, during the time that it was closed to avoid integrating, Sept. 1958. Thomas J. O'Halloran, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

*Entries for the 2024 Essay Contest are closed.*

Seventy years ago, the Supreme Court held in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), that racial segregation in public schools violates the United States Constitution. The Court recognized that public education is "the very foundation of good citizenship," and Brown's impact on education and society has been the subject of much discussion and debate in our nation's history.

Has the decision in Brown, viewed through the lens of 2024, achieved its purpose of ensuring equal opportunity in public education?

Consider one or more of these questions in preparing your essay:

  • What purpose, or purposes, does Brown's goal of diversity in schools serve in educating citizens in a democracy?
  • What is the importance of Brown and the equal protection of the laws in later educational or societal changes?
  • What institutions or groups should play a role in ensuring racial diversity in education, and how?
  • How did the decision in Brown impact other landmark Supreme Court decisions?
  • In deciding cases with a major impact on society, like Brown, should the Supreme Court consider public opinion on the subject at issue? If so, how would the Court evaluate the public opinion in making its decision?

Who May Enter

The Fourth Circuit Student Essay Contest is open to all students currently in grades 6 through 12 from Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Note: Prior award winners as well as children, grandchildren, stepchildren, and members of the household of a federal judge or federal judiciary employee are excluded from the competition.

Submission Deadline

Your essay and entry form must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, May 31, 2024. The contest entry form has instructions for submitting your essay. Your essay must be submitted at the same time as your entry form.


  • Understanding of constitutional principles (35 points)
    Demonstrates a clear understanding of the historical context and significance of Brown v. Board of Education.
  • Analysis and interpretation (25 points)
    Provides thoughtful analysis and considers competing viewpoints before reaching a conclusion.
  • Clarity and organization (20 points)
    Presents ideas clearly and in well-structured paragraphs. Maintains focus on a central theme.
  • Evidence and support (10 points)
    Identifies and attributes information from credible sources. Students will not be graded based on citation format, but the reader should be able to easily identify the source.
  • Grammar, spelling, and composition (10 points)
    Uses appropriate vocabulary and sentence structure, with minimal spelling or grammatical errors.

Exceeding the word limit, missing the submission deadline, using AI-generated content, plagiarizing content, providing false entry information, and not adhering to the rules are grounds for disqualification.

Group Length Awards
Grades 9–12 500–1,000 words 1st = $2,000
2nd = $1,500
3rd = $1,000
Grades 6–8 250–500 words 1st = $500
2nd = $350
3rd = $200

Length & Format

Essays are limited to the length indicated for each grade group. Citations should be placed in footnotes, endnotes, works cited, or a bibliography and are excluded from the word count. Submit your essay without your name in the following format:

  • Grades 9–12: Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat PDF document
  • Grades 6–8: Text typed or pasted into form section
  • Do not submit your essay as a link.


Winners will be announced in August 2024, and the winning essays will be presented at the Fourth Circuit's Constitution Day Program in September 2024.

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Contact the Clerk's Office at or (804) 916-2715.


Contact the Clerk's Office at or (804) 916-2715.