Eskridge appointed Alexander M. Bickel Professor of Public Law

William N. Eskridge Jr. is a national expert on statutory interpretation and sexuality, gender, and the law whose work has transformed both fields.
William N. Eskridge Jr.
William N. Eskridge Jr.

William N. Eskridge Jr., a national expert on statutory interpretation and sexuality, gender, and the law whose work has transformed both fields, has been appointed the Alexander M. Bickel Professor of Public Law, effective immediately.

Eskridge who joined the faculty at Yale Law School in 1998, was previously the John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence.

The Bickel professorship, considered one of the most prestigious chairs at Yale Law School, recognizes leaders in the field who have made substantial impact within the school and in the legal profession more broadly.

A graduate of Davidson College, Eskridge also holds an M.A. in history from Harvard University and a J.D. from Yale Law School. He clerked for Judge Edward Weinfeld in the Southern District of New York before practicing law at Shea & Gardner in Washington, D.C. He began his academic career in 1982, holding appointments at several leading institutions before coming to Yale Law School.

Eskridge, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is one of the most cited legal scholars in the United States, having published more than a dozen books and numerous pioneering scholarly articles.

Most prominently, Eskridge for more than a third of a century has been the leading figure in the field of legislation. His “Statutes and the Creation of Public Policy: Cases and Materials on Legislation” (West, 1988, now in its sixth edition), co-authored with the late Philip Frickey, is considered the field-establishing casebook for legislation and statutory interpretation. And his monograph, “Dynamic Statutory Interpretation” (Harvard, 1994), remains a theoretical landmark that still sparks debate and inspires students.  The bulk of his work is devoted to the proper methodology judges should apply when construing statutes. This empirically grounded, theoretically informed work has changed how scholars and practitioners think about these important questions and initiated dozens of debates within the field.

Eskridge’s work on same-sex marriage and the appropriate legal framework for the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community has been just as transformative. His “Sexuality, Gender, and the Law” (Foundation, 1997, now in its fifth edition), co-authored with Nan Hunter, was (like his work on legislation) field-establishing, as it created a feminist and “queer” conceptual framework that expanded upon traditional approaches that were limited to anti-gay persecution. Eskridge was also one of the earliest advocates of same-sex marriage. From 1990 to 1995, he represented a gay couple suing for recognition of their same-sex marriage. His monograph, “The Case for Same-Sex Marriage” (Free Press, 1996) grew out of that representation and laid out the constitutional case for marriage equality that was accepted by the Supreme Court in 2015. Subsequent books and articles advanced the cause of marriage equality while also exploring the deep arguments made by skeptics. His “Marriage Equality: From Outlaws to In-Laws” (Yale, 2020), co-authored with Christopher Riano, is the definitive history of that public debate. The American Bar Association awarded it the Silver Gavel Award for Books, which recognizes the best nonfiction legal book for 2020.

The historical materials in his book, “Gaylaw: Challenging the Apartheid of the Closet” (Harvard, 1999) formed the basis for an amicus brief Eskridge drafted for the Cato Institute and for much of the U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis and even language in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which invalidated consensual sodomy laws. He filed a critical amicus brief that was followed in the Supreme Court’s landmark Bostock v. Clayton County 6-3 decision, which ruled on June 16, 2020, that a federal civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. As in Lawrence, the dissenters in Bostock learned just as much from his historical work and found it worth citing in some detail.

Eskridge’s other books include “Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground” (Cambridge University Press, 2018), which was co-edited with Robin F. Wilson; “Interpreting Law: A Primer on How to Read Statutes and the Constitution (Foundation, 2016); “Statutes, Regulations, and Interpretation: Legislation and Administration in the Republic of Statutes” (West, 2014), co-authored with Abbe R. Gluck and Victoria F. Nourse; “A Republic of Statutes: The New American Constitution” (Yale University Press, 2010), co-authored with John Ferejohn; “Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Law in America, 1861-2003” (Viking, 2008); “Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse?” (Oxford, 2006), co-authored with Darren Spedale; “Equality Practice: Civil Unions and the Future of Gay Rights” (Routledge, 2002); “Constitutional Stupidities, Constitutional Tragedies” (NYU, 1998), co-authored and edited with Sanford Levinson; and “The Case for Same-Sex Marriage” (Free Press, 1996); “Cases and Materials on Constitutional Law: Themes for the Third Century” (West 1993, now in its sixth edition), co-authored with Daniel Farber and the late Philip Frickey. He has also written dozens of articles in prominent law journals.

The hallmark for Eskridge’s career as a legal academic has been that he is always thinking ahead: What issues and subject areas will be important five or ten years from now—not just what is topical today. In that spirit, Eskridge’s next project is to explore the effect of Artificial Intelligence on the legal profession, civil procedure and administration, and legal theory. Working with Theodore Rostow and Jeffrey Chivers, Eskridge is developing a series of innovative courses along these lines and plans join Chivers and Rostow in offering an AI-based first-semester course on Civil Procedure in Fall 2024.

Eskridge is devoted to his students and believes there is nothing more meaningful than advancing their understanding of legal doctrine, theory, and critique. He aspires toward understanding all angles to public law debates, including those that are directly contrary to his core commitments.

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