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Circuit Court Judge and Constitutional Law Scholar Michael W. McConnell Joins Stanford Law School Faculty

Publication Date: 
May 05, 2009
Stanford Law School

STANFORD, Calif., May 5, 2009—Stanford Law School today announced the appointment of Michael W. McConnell, a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and well-known constitutional law scholar, as Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law. McConnell will step down from his role on the bench to rejoin the legal academy and direct the Stanford Constitutional Law Center.

McConnell is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top judges and most distinguished constitutional law scholars. He has written broadly on many aspects of the Constitution but is best known for his work on freedom of religion—a critical area of constitutional law that he effectively redefined before ascending the bench. McConnell was appointed to the Denver-based Tenth Circuit in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

“Michael McConnell is one of the nation’s most accomplished scholars,” said Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer. “During the past two decades, he has been the preeminent legal scholar writing about the religion clauses of the United States Constitution, not to mention a leading authority on separation of powers, federalism, originalism, and any number of other subjects in constitutional law. We are thrilled and honored to have him join our faculty.”

In addition to teaching, McConnell will serve as faculty director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, founded by Kathleen Sullivan, Stanley Morrison Professor of Law and Former Dean. Sullivan will continue her involvement with the center as its founding director.

“Judge McConnell is a true luminary in the world of constitutional law,” said Sullivan. “He has had a unique trifecta of a career—excelling as scholar, advocate and judge. No one has had more influence on the Supreme Court's interpretation of the religion clauses over the last several decades. To have Judge McConnell join our faculty and carry on the work of our Constitutional Law Center is an academic coup of the first order, and I look forward with great excitement to having him as my colleague.”

“I am excited by the opportunity to teach and write about the pressing constitutional issues of our day as a professor at Stanford Law School, and especially as Director of the Constitutional Law Center,” McConnell commented. “I intend the Stanford Constitutional Law Center to be one of the nation’s leading forums for vigorous and questioning, but nonpartisan, analysis and debate. At this time of economic, cultural, and national security challenges and change, it is more vital than ever to reflect soberly and realistically on the founding principles of our constitutional system. Leaving the court of appeals was a wrenching decision, but I hope I can put my experience as a federal judge to valuable use as a scholar, a professor, and an engaged citizen.”

Prior to his appointment to the bench, Judge McConnell was Presidential Professor of Law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law of the University of Utah, and prior to that the William B. Graham Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. At both institutions he specialized in constitutional law. He has twice been a visiting professor at Stanford Law School, teaching a course called “Creation of the Constitution.” His course received highly favorable reviews, and his students were instrumental in encouraging the law school to bring him to Stanford. McConnell also practiced law as an appellate litigator, arguing 11 cases in the United States Supreme Court and numerous cases in other courts, and was Special Consultant to the appellate practice group of the Chicago-based law firm of Mayer Brown.

McConnell holds a BA (1976) from Michigan State University’s James Madison College and a JD (1979) from the University of Chicago Law School. He served as law clerk to Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and to Justice William J. Brennan of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was an assistant general counsel at the Office of Management of Budget and an assistant to the Solicitor General in the Department of Justice under President Ronald Reagan.

About the Stanford Constitutional Law Center

The Stanford Constitutional Law Center was founded in 2006 by Professor and former Dean Kathleen Sullivan to explore and improve public understanding of the most pressing constitutional issues. The Center has been actively contributing to constitutional litigation in U.S. courts, with a particular focus on the separation and scope of legislative, executive and judicial powers; the structure of constitutional democracy; the freedoms of speech, press, and academic research; and the right of privacy, including the privacy of personal data in a digital world.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, and write books and articles for academic audiences, as well as the popular press. Along with offering traditional law school classes, the school has embraced new subjects and new ways of teaching.



Judith Romero
Associate Director of Media Relations
Stanford Law School