Prof. Richard Albert Will Lead Texas Law’s Program on Constitutional Studies

Prof. Richard Albert Will Lead Texas Law’s Program on Constitutional StudiesRichard Albert, the William Stamps Farish Professor in Law as well as a Professor of Government, is taking on an additional role: Director of the Program of Constitutional Studies.

The Program brings together scholars across the University in the world’s leading center for the study of constitutionalism, which Prof. Albert describes below as “a multidisciplinary, multilingual, and pluralistic effort to understand constitutions in their full complexity, not only how they are interpreted in courts but also how they are designed, how they perform, how they evolve, and how they are ultimately replaced.” Prof. Albert’s directorship begins immediately.

Scholars working within the Program include the School of Law’s Prof. Sanford Levinson, Prof. Willy Forbath, and Prof. Larry Sager; the School of Government’s Prof. Rhonda Evans; and Prof. Gary Jacobsohn, who holds a dual appointment in both schools.

We sat down with Prof. Albert to discuss his new role, his ambitions for the Program’s activities and reach, and just what Constitutional Studies is.

Q: First things first: Congratulations on this new appointment!

A: Thank you! This is an opportunity unlike any other. We have the very best faculty in the world for Constitutional Studies.

Q: I know Constitutional Studies is not the same as Constitutional Law, but can you clarify the distinction for our readers, especially students who are going to be excited to hear about this?

A: Of course. Think of the decathlon in the Olympics. The world’s elite decathletes compete in ten completely different events involving running, jumping, and throwing, for instance the 100-meter dash, the long jump, and the javelin. Well, the decathlon is like Constitutional Studies, and Constitutional Law is more like any single one of these ten events.

Constitutional Law is only one part of the larger effort to understand constitutions. Constitutional Law refers to the doctrine of law, meaning the cases that courts decide. It is a court-centric inquiry that focuses above all on constitutional interpretation in courts.

In contrast, Constitutional Studies is a multidisciplinary, multilingual, and pluralistic effort to understand constitutions in their full complexity, not only how they are interpreted in courts but also how they are designed, how they perform, how they evolve, and how they are ultimately replaced. As a discipline, Constitutional Studies draws from the entire toolkit of scholarly perspectives, including comparative (how other countries confront similar problems), economic (how well constitutions deliver the public goods they promise), historical (how a constitution has arrived at its current form), sociological (how social movements shape the law and politics of a constitution), and several other methodological approaches, for instance empirical, philosophical, political, and theoretical.

Our faculty here at UT has been engaged in Constitutional Studies well before the field got its name. So many of our Law School faculty hold joint appointments across the University in the Departments of Government, History, Philosophy, and Public Policy, to name just a few.

Q: So, now that you’re Director of the Program, what activities do you hope to undertake?

A: The sky is the limit for our world-class center of excellence here in our world-class University. We will advise governments in need of assistance with constitution-making and constitutional reform, we will bring together the best and brightest scholars in innovative conferences to discuss big ideas in the field, we will publish impactful scholarship in books and journals all around the world, and we will train the next generation of leaders in Constitutional Studies in our teaching and mentorship of students and early-career scholars.

Q: You have so many exciting things going on right now, which I’d like to get to in a moment, but first: What excites you most about the Program?

A: The influence and impact of our faculty already extends far beyond our borders, and with good reason because they are the best at what they do. It will be an exciting challenge to harness the energies of our dynamic and truly peerless faculty in Constitutional Studies. I look forward to leading this global initiative to strengthen the values of democracy, constitutionalism, and the rule of law all around the world.

Q: I mentioned that you have a lot of things going on. For example, next July you will take over as Co-President of the International Society of Public Law. And as a subscriber to your newsletter, The Leaflet (a wonderfully punny name, by the way, coming from a Canadian!), I see you’ve got new books, new conferences, and you’re promoting young scholars. I’m tempted to ask where you find the time, but I will settle for knowing how all this work forms a coherent whole. What’s the great intellectual project of Richard Albert, and how does this Program fit into it?

A: Everything I do as a scholar has a single objective: to create opportunities for others to flourish in an intellectually stimulating environment committed to academic integrity, diversity, equality, freedom of speech, and inclusion. From the 2021 Global Summit in Constitutionalism, to the annual Global Review in Constitutional Law, to the International Society of Public Law, to the Leaflet, to my efforts on social media to share what I am reading and why it matters—I do all of it to make our vast world smaller, more accessible, better understood, and ever more just.

Q: Finally, what are you teaching next and what are you looking forward to about that?

A: I always look forward to teaching the introductory course in Constitutional Law to our first-year students. I will teach that course again next semester. We will discuss the separation of powers, federalism, and the Bill of Rights. This broad overview will give students a taste of the rich variety of questions and controversies in the field, and will hopefully encourage them later to enroll in one or more of the several advanced courses taught by our amazing faculty in Constitutional Studies.

Q: Prof. Albert, thanks for taking the time to talk. Congratulations again on your new appointment. We’re looking forward to seeing the Program in action.

A: Thank you! And my sincerest thanks to UT and Dean Farnsworth for this magnificent opportunity.