The American Inns of Court recently selected Derek A. Webb, a graduate of Georgetown Law, to receive their prestigious Warren E. Burger Prize for his essay “The Original Meaning of Civility: Democratic Deliberation at the Philidelphia Constitutional Convention.”
Every year, the American Inns of Court bestow this award on one recipient for an unpublished article of 10,000 to 25,000 words on a topic that addreses issues of legal excellence, civility, ethics and professionalism. A committee of law school professors from Boston university, New York University, University of Pennsylvania and the University of South Carolina selected Webb’s article as the top submission. The winner of the Burger Prize receives a cash prize and automatic publication in the South Carolina Law Review. The Burger Prize recipient also formally receives the award at the Supreme Court of the United States, where it is bestowed each year at the American Inns of Court’s annual black tie Celebration of Excellence. The Burger Prize recipient, along with recipients of the three other national awards given out each year, then gives an acceptance speech of five to seven minutes in the courtroom.
In his essay, Webb explored the ways in which delegates to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention reasoned together and hammered out compromise in the face of considerable philosphical, poolitical, and personal differences. He was particularly struck by the importance of what he calls “civic friendship” that prevailed among many of the delegates in Philadelphia. Despite their serious disagreements, at the end of the daily five hours of deliberations in the assembly room, the delegates would typically gather together in cross-sectional, cross-ideological dinner parties at taverns and evening parties teas at delegates’ homes throughout the city that helped keep the Convention form breaking down at critical moments.
Webb said that the origins for the paper came in two classes he took at Georgetown Law; the first was a class on negotiation with Stephen Altman and the second a year-long class on contemporary legal scholarship taught by Gregory Klass and Robin West. Sherman Cohn, a professor at Georgetown Law since 1965 and the first national president of the American Inns of Court for eleven years, presided over the Celebration of Excellence at the U.S. Supreme Court where he met Derek and saw him give his speech.
“Of the eight that got it before him, he is the first law student. That alone is impressive,” stated Professor Cohn.
Webb is currently in the first year of a two-year academic fellowship at the Stanford University Constiuttional Law Center in Palo Alto, Calif. Before law school, he earned a B.A. in Philosphy from Yale University and a Ph. D. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame. While at Georgetown, he earned CALI best paper awards in six different classes and along with his moot court partner Rob Silverblatt, won the Spong Moot Court Competition at William and Mary Law School, the longest running constitutional law themed moot court competition in the country. The pair also took home top writing honors by winnin