Campus & Community

Sunstein joins HLS, where eminent scholar will direct new program

4 min read

Renowned legal scholar and political theorist Cass R. Sunstein has accepted an offer to join the Harvard Law School (HLS) faculty, Dean Elena Kagan announced Tuesday (Feb. 19). Sunstein, currently a tenured professor at the University of Chicago Law School, will begin teaching at HLS in the fall. He will also become director of the new Program on Risk Regulation.

“Cass Sunstein is the pre-eminent legal scholar of our time — the most wide-ranging, the most prolific, the most cited, and the most influential,” said Kagan. “His work in any one of the fields he pursues — administrative law and policy, constitutional law and theory, behavioral economics and law, environmental law, to name a nonexhaustive few — would put him in the very front ranks of legal scholars; the combination is singular and breathtaking. He has a gift for framing and discussing issues in ways that invariably gain traction and make progress. And perhaps best of all, this individual superstar is also a consummate team player — a person whose passion for reasoned intellectual inquiry is contagious and who raises the level of everyone around him. If I could add only one person to the faculty, Cass would be that person, and I am thrilled beyond measure to announce his appointment.”

The Program on Risk Regulation will focus on how law and policy deal with the central hazards of the 21st century. Anticipated areas of study include terrorism, climate change, occupational safety, infectious diseases, natural disasters, and other low-probability, high-consequence events. Sunstein plans to rely on significant student involvement in the work of this new program.

“The nation and the world are facing many unanticipated problems, and policymakers must find ways to protect people from risks without creating unanticipated side effects,” said Sunstein. “Our goals are to improve our sense of what the law is now doing — and to see how it might do better. We hope to enlist the creativity of the HLS community — above all, law students — in accomplishing those goals.”

The author or co-author of more than 15 books and hundreds of scholarly articles, Sunstein is the most-cited law professor on any law faculty in the United States. He has written extensively on many aspects of public law, including the regulation of risk; the nature of rights, judicial decision-making; and numerous features of administrative, environmental, and constitutional doctrine. In recent years, he has worked on various projects involving the relationship between law and human behavior. Focusing on new technologies, his recent book “Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge,” explores how private companies and governments can aggregate information — how efforts to pool knowledge sometimes go wrong, and how they can be made to go right. Sunstein’s analysis has been studied by many private and public institutions, including the Central Intelligence Agency. His forthcoming book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” (with Richard Thaler), applies cutting-edge social science work on human behavior to legal questions in many areas, including mortgage markets, the stock market, environmental protection, and family law.

Sunstein is a leading public intellectual, frequently providing expert testimony to congressional committees, including the Senate Judiciary Committee during its consideration of Supreme Court nominees.  He has appeared on many television and radio programs and in numerous newspapers and magazines. Last year, Sunstein was awarded the prestigious Henry M. Phillipps Prize by the American Philosophical Association, given every three years for lifetime achievement in jurisprudence.

Sunstein joined the University of Chicago Law School faculty in 1981 as an assistant professor. Today he is the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence, a joint appointment of the University of Chicago Law School and political science department. He has taught several times at HLS as a visiting professor.

Following his graduation from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Sunstein clerked for Justice Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. He also worked in the Department of Justice as an attorney-adviser in the influential Office of Legal Counsel.

Sunstein has also worked on constitutional and law reform issues outside the United States as a legal adviser for many nations, including Ukraine, Poland, China, South Africa, and Russia.

He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992 and the American Law Institute in 1990.