Laura Weinrib

Professor of Law

Suzanne Young Murray Professor, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

Areeda 331

617-384-6810

Assistant: Carol Bateson / 617-495-2917

Biography

Laura Weinrib is Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Suzanne Young Murray Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. A legal historian, she studies how social movements have transformed constitutional categories to pursue political and economic change. She is the author of The Taming of Free Speech: America’s Civil Liberties Compromise (Harvard University Press, 2016), which traces the emergence during the first half of the twentieth century of a constitutional and court-centered concept of civil liberties as a defining feature of American democracy. Her articles, essays, and book chapters have explored a wide range of subjects in American legal history, as well as constitutional law, labor law, and law and literature.

Weinrib is a 2003 graduate of Harvard Law School. She completed her PhD in history at Princeton University in 2011. In 2000, she received an AB in literature and an AM in comparative literature from Harvard University. After law school, Weinrib clerked for Judge Thomas L. Ambro of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. From 2009 to 2010, she was a Samuel I. Golieb Fellow in Legal History at the New York University School of Law. Before joining the Harvard Law School faculty in 2019, she was Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School and an Associate Member of the University of Chicago Department of History.

Areas of Interest

Laura M. Weinrib, From Left to Rights: Civil Liberties Lawyering Between the World Wars, 15 Law, Culture & Human. 622 (2019).
Categories:
Constitutional Law
,
Legal Profession
,
Government & Politics
,
Labor & Employment
Sub-Categories:
First Amendment
,
Courts
,
Judges & Jurisprudence
,
Politics & Political Theory
,
Labor Law
,
Legal History
Type: Article
Abstract
In the formative years of the modern First Amendment, civil liberties lawyers struggled to justify their participation in a legal system they perceived as biased and broken. For decades, they charged, the courts had fiercely protected property rights even while they tolerated broad-based suppression of the “personal rights,” such as expressive freedom, through which peaceful challenges to industrial interests might have proceeded. This article focuses on three phases in the relationship between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the courts in the period between the world wars: first, the ACLU’s attempt to promote worker mobilization by highlighting judicial hypocrisy; second, its effort to induce incremental legal reform by mobilizing public opinion; and third, its now-familiar reliance on the judiciary to insulate minority views against state intrusion and majoritarian abuses. By reconstructing these competing approaches, the article explores the trade-offs – some anticipated and some unintended – entailed by the ACLU’s mature approach.
Laura Weinrib, Against Intolerance: The Red Scare Roots of Legal Liberalism, 18 J. Gilded Age & Progressive Era 7 (2019).
Categories:
Constitutional Law
,
Government & Politics
,
Labor & Employment
Sub-Categories:
First Amendment
,
Congress & Legislation
,
Politics & Political Theory
,
Administrative Law & Agencies
,
Labor Law
Type: Article
Abstract
This article argues that important antecedents of post-New Deal American liberalism emerged in response to the First Red Scare. As war hysteria gave way to patent antiradicalism, the pervasiveness of peacetime state-sponsored repression undermined progressive confidence in administrative governance and generated support for so-called personal rights. At the same time, the suppression of meaningful labor activity during the early 1920s buttressed conservative confidence in the judiciary and emboldened lawyers and business advocates to oppose state policing of putatively private beliefs. The result was increasing convergence around a new liberalism, defined against “intolerance,” which laid the groundwork for judicial enforcement of free speech and minority rights.
Laura Weinrib, The Vagrancy Law Challenge and the Vagaries of Legal Change, 43 Law & Soc. Inquiry 1669 (2018) (reviewing Risa Goluboff, Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960’s (2016)).
Categories:
Constitutional Law
,
Discrimination & Civil Rights
Sub-Categories:
Fourteenth Amendment
,
Civil Rights
,
Poverty Law
Type: Article
Abstract
This essay reflects on the relationship between the diffuse legal struggle to dismantle vagrancy laws during the 1960s and the larger history of twentieth-century social movement advocacy. In Vagrant Nation, Risa Goluboff persuasively links the demise of vagrancy laws to the cultural and constitutional turmoil of the 1960s. It is possible, however, to interpret that decade's upheaval, which rendered explicit social stratification increasingly vulnerable, as an impediment to a budding anti-vagrancy law consensus instead of a prerequisite for legal change. On this alternative reading, the uncoordinated legal efforts to overturn vagrancy laws in a decade dominated by more contentious litigation campaigns may have contributed to a tepid decision by the Supreme Court, which ultimately invalidated vagrancy laws on narrow legalistic grounds. Indeed, the relatively protracted dismantlement of the vagrancy law regime raises the question whether bottom-up constitutionalism lacks potency in the absence of an intermediary organization with a well-defined litigation strategy.
Laura Weinrib, The Taming of Free Speech: America’s Civil Liberties Compromise (2016).
Categories:
Constitutional Law
,
Labor & Employment
,
Discrimination & Civil Rights
Sub-Categories:
First Amendment
,
Civil Rights
,
Labor Law
Type: Book
Abstract
In the early decades of the twentieth century, business leaders condemned civil liberties as masks for subversive activity, while labor sympathizers denounced the courts as shills for industrial interests. But by the Second World War, prominent figures in both camps celebrated the judiciary for protecting freedom of speech. In this strikingly original history, Laura Weinrib illustrates how a surprising coalition of lawyers and activists made judicial enforcement of the Bill of Rights a defining feature of American democracy. The Taming of Free Speech traces our understanding of civil liberties to conflict between 1910 and 1940 over workers’ right to strike. As self-proclaimed partisans in the class war, the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union promoted a bold vision of free speech that encompassed unrestricted picketing and boycotts. Over time, however, they subdued their rhetoric to attract adherents and prevail in court. At the height of the New Deal, many liberals opposed the ACLU’s litigation strategy, fearing it would legitimize a judiciary they deemed too friendly to corporations and too hostile to the administrative state. Conversely, conservatives eager to insulate industry from government regulation pivoted to embrace civil liberties, despite their radical roots. The resulting transformation in constitutional jurisprudence―often understood as a triumph for the Left―was in fact a calculated bargain. America’s civil liberties compromise saved the courts from New Deal attack and secured free speech for labor radicals and businesses alike. Ever since, competing groups have clashed in the arena of ideas, shielded by the First Amendment.
Laura Weinrib, Book Review, 32 Law & Hist. Rev. 728 (2014)(reviewing Leigh Ann Wheeler, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (2013)).
Categories:
Discrimination & Civil Rights
,
Legal Profession
Sub-Categories:
Civil Rights
,
Gender & Sexuality
,
LGBTQ Rights Law
,
Legal History
Type: Article
Laura Weinrib, Reconstructing Family: Constructive Trust at Relational Dissolution, 37 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 207 (2002).
Categories:
Family Law
Sub-Categories:
Domestic Relations
Type: Article

Education History

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