Ling Gao

During an admitted law students reception for the Federalist Society, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken announced the launch of a semiannual originalism conference, called the Rosenkranz Originalism Conference, to discuss the theory of law that relies on the drafters’ intent on Sunday. 

The initiative will be led by professor Steven Calabresi ’80 LAW ’83, who teaches at Northwestern Law School, and professor of constitutional law Akhil Reed Amar ’80 LAW ’84. It is sponsored by professor Nicholas Rosenkranz ’92 LAW ’99, who teaches at Georgetown University Law Center, as well as the Rosenkranz family and the Rosenkranz Foundation. Around 40 current and admitted Law School students — current or prospective members of the Federalist Society — as well as a few professors attended the reception.

On April 4, amid controversy that the Law School was discriminating against Christian conservative students, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced that he plans to investigate the Law School’s alleged discrimination against students intending to work at summer and postgraduate public interest fellowships at Christian organizations.

But in a statement, the Law School explained that this conference had been months in the making.

The conference, which takes place on a Friday once every semester, will feature two originalist thinkers, one each in the morning and afternoon, who will have conversations with Amar and Calabresi in a crossfire format. The event will also host a keynote address by a prominent jurist such as Justice Neil Gorsuch, Amar suggested. The event will end with a roundtable discussion with students, the keynote speaker, originalist thinkers and both Calabresi and Amar.

Amar emphasized the “civility and intensity” that will accompany the originalist conference.

Calabresi and Amar, whose personal conversations about the Constitution began when they were friends and classmates at Yale College, recently collaborated on a 2018 revised edition of the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s landmark book on originalism, “A Matter of Interpretation.” The new edition features an introduction by Amar and an afterword by Calabresi.

Calabresi, who co-founded the Federalist Society while at Yale Law School, is the chairman of the board of directors of the Federalist Society, and Rosenkranz is a member of the Board as well.

“This is a tremendous step forward for both Yale Law School and for the theory of the centrality of the original public meaning of legal texts,” Calabresi, who Skyped into the conference, said. “I am immensely grateful for Dean Gerken’s support both of my teaching at Yale and of originalism with the creation of this new Originalism Conference series.”

The Federalist Society was founded as the result of an April 1982 conference on federalism. The keynote speaker was Judge Robert Bork, a former Law School faculty member, whose class both Calabresi and Amar took as law students together. Under Bork’s leadership, originalism emerged at Yale Law School as an alternative to the then-dominant theory of legal realism.

Amar and Calabresi will be teaching a class on originalism for each fall semester of the next five years.

Following the announcement, Judge Amul Thapar, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, led a discussion on his career as a conservative thinker, which was moderated by Athie Livas LAW ’19, the outgoing president of the Yale Law School’s chapter of the Federalist Society.

Gerken was selected as dean in 2017.

Samuel Turner | samuel.turner@yale.edu