Long before he embarked on a career in law and public policy, Alan Kennedy J.D. ’09, M.A. ’09 was standing up for constitutional rights. In fact, the William & Mary public policy lecturer has a picture of himself at the age of 5 walking with his parents through the streets of New York City during a gay pride parade.

As a child, the Brooklyn native remembers participating with his parents, both retired educators, in anti-war demonstrations, attending political rallies and walking the picket line with striking workers. As he has gotten older, that motivation to protect democracy has continued, as has his activism and political involvement. 

A lawyer, Army veteran, major in the U.S. Army Reserve and self-described “whistleblower,” Kennedy was recently recognized for his efforts when he was presented the Public Integrity Award by the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), the largest organization that represents policy professionals.

“This is an incredible honor to receive the Public Integrity Award from the American Society for Public Administration,” said Kennedy, who accepted the honor virtually on March 22. “The Public Integrity Award is awarded most years to an individual or an organization who encourages responsible conduct in government. So for me, I think encouraging government to be more responsible and respectful of constitutional rights is what I’ve been doing my entire career.”

‘We dream about what the law should be’

Kennedy tells his students in his introduction to public policy course that “lawyers argue about what the law is, and in public policy we dream about what the law should be.” He continues to strive to protect the rights of others, as well as himself.

While serving as a captain in the Colorado Army National Guard in 2020, Kennedy was reprimanded by his superiors for his participation in Black Lives Matter protests and also for writing op-eds criticizing police for using excessive force against protestors.

“To me that is emblematic of what is holding us back, the systemic racism that perpetuates injustice and inequality,” Kennedy said. “So I sued the Army, and because I sued, I continue to serve and was promoted.”

In January 2022, an Army review board overturned and erased the reprimand, and the National Guard Bureau also declared that federal restrictions on protest participation don’t apply to part-time troops who are off-duty.

“It was a victory for free speech,” Kennedy said. “That’s the reason that I’m receiving this award. Standing up for constitutional rights is never easy, but the value to democracy is immeasurable. The theme of this year’s ASPA conference was protecting democracy for the next generation. And I hope that that my efforts to protect democracy will carry on so that there’s a better world for my daughters and future generations.”

Kennedy received his undergraduate degree from Yale and immediately made the move to William & Mary for law school in 2006. During his time as a W&M grad student, he counted Taylor Reveley, president emeritus and former law school dean, as a mentor.

“His emphasis on the citizen lawyer concept I think resonated with me, and helped inspire me to join the Army, which I did in 2012, so now I have more than 10 years of service, and now I’m a major in the United States Army Reserve,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy assists with the ROTC program at William & Mary and soon will start a new part-time position in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) as brigade judge advocate for an Army reserve unit in Charleston, West Virginia. In that role, he will be legal advisor to a brigade commander, advising the commander in everything from military justice to administrative law to national security law.

‘Democracy can’t protect itself’

After graduating from William & Mary Law School, Kennedy worked for seven years in state government in Pennsylvania, first as a lawyer for several agencies and then as senior policy analyst for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

It was during his time as a policy analyst that he decided to go to University of Colorado Denver to get his Ph.D. in public affairs. His dissertation on the disparity between state gun laws and resulting gun violence won the best dissertation award from the school of public affairs at CU-Denver for 2021-2022, and it also won the outstanding dissertation award from the university’s entire graduate school.

Kennedy, who was recently named one of the American Bar Association’s 2020-2021 Top 40 Lawyers on the Rise, is currently revising his dissertation to turn it into a book.

Kennedy is also working with W&M graduate students on a project on no-knock warrants, which allow law enforcement to enter a property without immediate prior notification of the residents, such as by knocking or ringing a doorbell.

“We’re still in the early stages of that project on the relationship between the courts and the police,” Kennedy said. “In theory, warrants have to be approved by a judge. What we’ve learned so far is that there’s not enough oversight. And that has led to inequities in policing and the criminal justice system.”

Kennedy co-teaches a law school course on law and public policy, and in the fall he will teach a COLL 400 course on negotiation and public leadership. In January 2024, he will lead a course at the Washington Center called Critical Race Theory and the First Amendment.

“That will bring all of my interests together,” he said. “I’m very excited about that.”

Fighting unfair treatment has been a leading motivator for Kennedy throughout his life. In his acceptance speech for his ASPA award, Kennedy said, “It is up to us to protect democracy for the next generation, in my case, for my daughters Caledonia and Cambria, because democracy cannot protect itself.”

Editor’s note: Democracy is one of four cornerstone initiatives in W&M’s Vision 2026 strategic plan. Visit the Vision 2026 website to learn more.

, Communications Specialist