Legal Scholars Gather in Tucson for Fifth Annual National Constitutional Law Conference

April 26, 2023

The event featured expert presentations on issues including executive power, religious liberty and the major questions doctrine.

College of Law sign

After two-years of virtual gatherings, the National Conference of Constitutional Law Scholars reconvened in person in Tucson, Arizona this past March. Now in its fifth year, the conference, which is hosted by the William H. Rehnquist Center on the Constitutional Structures of Government housed in the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, has quickly become the leading national conference of constitutional law scholars.  

“The conference has always had a convivial atmosphere, but this year it was on a whole different level. People were so happy to see each other again,” commented Andrew Coan, Milton O. Riepe Chair in Constitutional Law and director of the Rehnquist Center. “Zoom was a good substitute when the pandemic prevented us from gathering in Tucson. But you miss out on the informal interactions over meals and during breaks that make a conference so valuable. For that reason, we made a very conscious attempt to build unstructured time into this year's conference program. I think it was very successful, and we will look for ways to build on this in future years.”  

With more than 70 legal scholars from across the country in attendance, the event featured expert presentations on issues including executive power and the administrative state, religious liberty and the constitution, the major questions doctrine and the rapid constitutional changes made by the Supreme Court during their last term. The conference has proven to be a particularly invaluable opportunity for early career scholars to receive high-quality commentary and feedback on their work and to network with senior scholars in attendance.

Aziz Huq, Frank and Bernice J. Greenberg Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School delivered the keynote address on the rule of law in contemporary American constitutionalism.

“The rule of law is a famously slippery concept,” noted Coan. “Huq’s keynote boiled it down to two core principles and argued that the U.S. constitutional system is failing to live up to either. He challenged the legal academy to do better and, specifically, to rethink its relationship to powerful interests.”

Huq was joined by distinguished commentators Mitch Berman (University of Pennsylvania), Justin Driver (Yale), Jud Campbell (Richmond), Tara Leigh Grove (Texas), Farah Peterson (Chicago) and Miriam Seifter (Wisconsin) who each moderated one of the six main sessions. This year’s program also included several break-out “lightning sessions,” in which participants delivered short, no-paper presentations on early-stage projects followed by group discussion.

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. Coan has since been 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. Schwartz will resume his participation next year.

A recording of the conference keynote speech can be viewed here.