National Conference, Leading Faculty Establish University of Arizona Law as Hub for Constitutional Law

April 4, 2022

Through programming and faculty dedicated to understanding the challenges of constitutional government, the college has positioned itself at the forefront of constitutional scholarship.

In September 2006, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law established the William H. Rehnquist Center on the Constitutional Structures of Government, an initiative to promote greater understanding of constitutional federalism, judicial independence, and the separation of powers. In the 16 years since, the center and the college have expanded on that mission through faculty hires, a leading national conference, and dynamic public engagements, solidifying University of Arizona Law as a center of constitutional scholarship and public discourse.

The establishment of the Rehnquist Center, which counted Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor among its founding advisory board members, kicked off a period of scholarly growth for the college. University of Arizona Law alumna Sally Rider (JD ’86, BA’ 80), who served five years as the top staff aide to then-Chief Justice Rehnquist, joined as center director. 

Today, the Rehnquist Center continues to honor the chief justice’s legacy and attract prominent legal minds to participate in lectures and activities that touch on the themes that were integral to Rehnquist’s jurisprudence. Hosted speakers have included Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr., Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer, former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, and the Honorable David Barron, U.S. Circuit judge and former acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice.

A Cross Section of Constitutional Scholarship 

The center is also home to the annual National Conference of Constitutional Law Scholars, a field-wide forum that draws the nation’s top constitutional law scholars to present works in progress on a wide range of constitutional issues.  

“I think the conference is the best example of the Rehnquist Center’s leadership in the field of constitutional law, and the way in which the Rehnquist Center has come to serve as a hub for conversations in constitutional law nationally,” says Professor Andrew Coan, associate dean for research, director of the Rehnquist Center and lead conference organizer. 

The 2022 conference, held virtually in February, drew more than 140 registrants to hear expert presentations on timely issues including the constitutionality of the modern administrative state, qualified immunity and police accountability, federalism in the 21st century, and the ongoing struggle for constitutional equality. 

“There was a remarkably wide range of methodological perspectives and topics represented this year,” says Coan. “We saw some of the very best emerging and established scholars present cutting-edge work on presidential power, anti-discrimination law, constitutional history, and the constitutional issues arising out of the federal administrative state. It was a true cross section of constitutional scholarship as it stands today.”

Lee Epstein, the Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, delivered the keynote address on how empirical research can help illuminate constitutional law. Offering practical ways for constitutional law scholars to engage with empirical methods, Epstein urged scholars to employ 21st century techniques to illustrate how constitutional law actually operates on the ground.

The conference began in 2018 after Coan and colleagues David Schwartz from the University of Wisconsin Law School, and Brad Snyder from Georgetown University Law Center, noticed the absence of a single, national conference bringing together scholars in the field of constitutional law. The group developed the event to fill that niche and offer a forum for intellectual exchange and feedback for improving scholarly work. This year, Coan and Schwartz were joined in organizing the event by Rebecca Aviel from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and Shalev Roisman and Eunice Lee from University of Arizona Law.

“For me personally, this is very the best constitutional law conference that I attend every year,” says Toni Massaro, Regents Professor and the Milton O. Riepe Chair in Constitutional Law at University of Arizona Law. “[The conference] enables early career scholars to present their work to a highly engaged audience and distinguished senior scholars who provide great feedback. This has a democratizing effect and enables younger scholars to meet and form intellectual bonds with some of the leaders in their fields.” 

Full recordings of this year’s conference can be viewed here.

Cultivating Constitutional Expertise

The conference has gained national prominence over the years, resulting in the expansion of constitutional expertise at University of Arizona Law. 

Roisman and Lee are recent additions to the faculty, who approach the study of constitutional law from different perspectives. Roisman, who joined the college as an associate professor in 2019, teaches and researches on administrative law, national security, and constitutional law. His most recent work has largely focused on presidential power, including an examination of the laws that govern presidential power, and an analysis on presidential factfinding as a feature of the president’s authority. Now helping to organize the conference, Roisman was among the list of presenters at the inaugural event in 2018.

Lee’s research centers on the legal and social construction of citizenship, migration, and borders. She engages overlapping areas of immigration, administrative, constitutional, and international refugee law to understand the rights of immigrants in the United States. Lee, who holds a JD from Yale and a PhD in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley, joined the faculty in 2020 as an associate professor and, in addition, co-directs the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program

Roisman and Lee joined a strong constitutional faculty which included Massaro and Coan. Massaro joined the college in 1989 and was dean during the establishment of the Rehnquist Center. She is the author of several books including “The Arc of Due Process in American Constitutional Law,” and “Constitutional Literacy: A Core Curriculum for a Multicultural Nation” and her research on free speech and democracy has been featured in leading law review journals across the country. Coan, who joined the faculty in 2014, studies the Supreme Court, executive power and constitutional interpretation. He is the author of two recent books, “Rationing the Constitution,” and “Prosecuting the President,” published by Harvard and Oxford University presses. The latter was a finalist for the ABA’s Silver Gavel Award.

Advancing Constitutional Discourse

University of Arizona Law is educating the next generation of scholars through a broad range of courses and seminars offered on all aspects of constitutional law from judicial review and federalism, to state constitutions and individual rights. In addition, and in keeping with Chief Justice Rehnquist’s legacy, other initiatives from around the college have been designed to engage the public and broader legal community on constitutional issues and civil discourse.

In 2020, The Journal of Appellate Practice and Process moved to University of Arizona Law. Under the guidance of editor-in-chief Tessa Dysart, assistant director of legal writing and clinical professor of law, The Journal has complemented the college’s existing strengths in legal writing and advocacy and reflects the faculty's ongoing contributions to the national conversation on appellate practice issues.

The Winter 2022 issue featured topics on digital practice, the consequences of filming law enforcement, and the effect of courtroom closures on the right to a public trial.  

The Pitt Family Foundation Speaker Series on law and democracy, hosted by professor of practice and former Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild, launched in 2021 and has hosted speakers including Janet Napolitano, Eddie Glaude, Jr., Jamal Greene, Lilliana Mason, Jill Lepore, Ezra Klein, and Lawrence Lessig.

The college also hosts the J. Byron McCormick Lecture on Law and Public Affairs, which brings eminent national and international experts on law and public affairs to speak on campus each year. Past

speakers have included U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan, former U.S. Representative Barney Frank, former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, and PBS commentator and New York Times columnist David Brooks

Global partnerships have also helped to expand the college’s constitutional offerings. University of Arizona Law was recently invited to join the Seminario en Latinoamerica de Teoria Política y Constitucional, a collaboration between Yale Law School and nearly 30 institutions throughout Latin American. The seminar provides leading legal scholars from across the Americas opportunities to learn from and collaborate with other experts who share their commitment to democratic principles and values. A delegation of faculty from the college will participate in the next event this June in Santiago, Chile.

In 2019, the college also partnered with Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México to develop a first-of-its-kind certificate program teaching Mexican public law and policy. Courses focusing on Mexican constitutional law are taught in Spanish by leading figures in the Mexican legal academy offering a unique perspective on constitutional ideas, often through a comparative lens.

Although more than two centuries have passed since the constitution was ratified, the content continues to spark debate. Constitutional law scholarship has inspired new interpretations of seemingly settled ideas and continues to influence the development of the law and the life of the nation today.

Says Coan, “From voting rights to environmental regulation to police accountability to abortion and firearms regulation, the most pressing issues of the day all have significant constitutional dimensions.”