Columbia Law School Student Wins Legal Writing Contest
Top Award in Anti-Defamation League's Summer Associate Research Program Memo Competition Goes to Jonathan Kay '16
New York, January 31, 2016—Jonathan Kay ’16 has won the Anti-Defamation League's Summer Associate Research Program Memo Competition for a paper he wrote on the First Amendment and anti-gay student speech. The award recognizes excellence in legal writing, research, and analysis on civil rights issues.
Jonathan Kay ’16 won the Anti-Defamation League's Summer Associate Research Program Memo
Competition. The honor recognizes excellence in legal writing, research, and analysis on civil rights issues.
More than 100 law firms participate in the program, which enlists summer associates from across the country to write memoranda on timely topics for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). For nearly 103 years, the ADL has dedicated its resources to fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. The summer associates’ program, which began more than a decade ago, provides legal research for the civil rights organization, while exposing future lawyers to the importance of pro bono work. The memo competition was established by ADL’s New York chapter in 2014.
As a summer associate at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City, Kay examined the free speech implications of prohibiting bullying and anti-gay expression in public schools. Forty-seven years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines that students have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on school grounds, but it nonetheless allowed school administrators to limit student speech under two circumstances: if the speech caused a substantial disruption, or if the speech impinged on the rights of others.
Since then, Kay noted, the 9th and 7th Circuit Courts have “split” on the matter, ruling for and against school bans on anti-gay speech, citing the Supreme Court’s two-pronged allowance. The 9th Circuit found a ban constitutionally permissible under Tinker’s “rights of others” prong, whereas the 7th Circuit declared a similar ban unconstitutional under the “substantial disruption” prong. In his memo to the ADL, Kay advocated for a “rights of others” focus to promote tolerance in schools.
“Perhaps a good way to address this issue is to distinguish between the ‘method’ and ‘content’ of student speech,” Kay explained this week. “An administrator can’t silence a student simply because he disagrees with that student’s views, but a school should be cognizant of the method of speech. Does the way in which the speech is expressed harm other students?”
Last month, Sullivan & Cromwell held a breakfast to celebrate Kay’s accomplishment. “I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that I won.”