Skip to content


Nikolas Bowie

  • Harvard Law professor says leaked SCOTUS draft opinion on Roe v. Wade looks legitimate, but opinions can change

    May 3, 2022

    A draft Supreme Court opinion obtained by Politico and published online Monday night indicates the justices are on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion legal nationwide, but a Harvard constitutional law scholar said opinions can change, and this document does not necessarily represent the court’s final ruling. “A draft opinion is only that: It’s a draft,” Nikolas Bowie, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School who teaches courses on constitutional law, told the Globe in a phone interview late Monday night. “Odds are this is not the latest opinion.” “Justices are all free to change their mind at any point before the final opinion is actually issued,” he added.

  • Nikolas Bowie teaching a class.

    ‘Change the world around you’

    April 29, 2022

    In a philosophical and wide-ranging Last Lecture, Harvard Law School Assistant Professor Nikolas Bowie ’14 reminded the Class of 2022 that they are on the verge of changing the world.

  • Biden isn’t first to prioritize race, gender in picking SCOTUS nominee

    January 31, 2022

    Fox News host Sean Hannity misleadingly claimed that President Joe Biden was venturing into unprecedented territory with his pledge to nominate a Black woman as a replacement for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who is retiring after 28 years. ... Nikolas Bowie, assistant professor of law at Harvard Law School, said Hannity’s claim “ignores the reality that from 1789 through 1967, every president made race and gender a defining factor in their selection process by refusing to nominate anyone other than a white man.” ... Tomiko Brown-Nagin, another professor of constitutional law and history at Harvard University, said the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s Italian background was a “defining, positive factor in Ronald Reagan’s selection of him,” citing a report in Slate, a progressive online magazine.

  • Woman sitting in a chair at the doorway of an office making a wide hand gesture.

    In Memoriam: Lani Guinier 1950 – 2022

    January 7, 2022

    Lani Guinier, the first African-American woman to be tenured at Harvard Law School and an influential scholar who devoted her life to justice, equality, empowerment, and democracy, died Jan. 7.

  • Court Reform Is Dead! Long Live Court Reform!

    December 13, 2021

    Joe Biden’s Commission on the Supreme Court voted on the final version of its report last week. ... Almost no one thinks that the Constitution forbids adding justices, but the draft sounded notes of grave caution all the same. “The risks of court expansion are considerable,” it emphasized. One of the commissioners, the Harvard professor Andrew Crespo, worried that arguments in favor of expanding the Court had been “teed up to be knocked down.” In effect, he remarked, the report sent “a message that the underlying problem … is neither urgent nor serious, if it even exists.” Joined by another commissioner, the NAACP lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill, Crespo’s minor rebellion was the only part of the October meeting to draw serious coverage—forcing the commission back to the drawing board. This was not the first time the commission had accidentally generated the reform energy it was supposed to contain. Back in June, the group convened publicly to discuss for the first time the merits of various reform proposals. And although the interminable meeting seemed intended to sap the will of reform advocates, the testimony that received the most attention by far was that of the Harvard professor Nikolas Bowie, which went viral on Twitter and was given pride of place in both national reporting and op-eds calling for a more democratic law. Building on earlier calls to “disempower” the Supreme Court, Bowie’s testimony helped many progressives see that the threat posed by that institution goes beyond the reactionary attitudes of individual justices, and includes the undemocratic power the justices wield, regardless of ideological leaning.

  • Coffee cup with whipped cream and open book on a window sill.

    On the bookshelf

    November 30, 2021

    Here are some of the latest from HLS authors to add to your reading list over the holiday break.

  • Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

    In a conflict between justice and the Constitution, ‘why should the Constitution prevail’?

    November 16, 2021

    Can, or even should, Americans break the U.S. Constitution when, in their view, justice demands it? As Noah Feldman and Nikolas Bowie discussed at a recent Harvard Law School Library Book Talk, that question is very much alive today.

  • Pile of folded newspapers

    Protecting the media to protect democracy

    November 16, 2021

    At a Harvard Law School Library Book Talk, Martha Minow, along with Vicki Jackson and Nikolas Bowie, discussed why the press is in danger — and how to save it.

  • The courts have served as an anti-democratic force for much of U.S. history

    November 3, 2021

    The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a sweeping new abortion law in Texas on Monday. The law, which went into effect in September, bans abortions after six weeks and relies on private-citizens-turned-bounty-hunters to enforce the law at $10,000 a head. The court’s decision not to block enforcement of the law before it went into effect places the legitimacy of the high court in question. ... However, this is not the first time, nor is it a rare moment when the judiciary stood against democracy and civil rights. ... “First, as a matter of historical practice, the court has wielded an antidemocratic influence on American law, one that has undermined federal attempts to eliminate hierarchies of race, wealth and status,” Nikolas Bowie, an assistant professor of law at Harvard Law School, testified to the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States that was formed last spring. “Second, as a matter of political theory, the court’s exercise of judicial review undermines the value that distinguishes democracy as an ideal form of government: its pursuit of political equality.” Bowie noted that Alexis de Tocqueville identified jurists as the American aristocracy, a privileged class with lifetime tenure who, as “the priests of Egypt,” regarded themselves as “the sole interpreter of an occult science” of the Constitution. He also pointed out that the Supreme Court has consistently protected the wealthy, invalidated federal laws enacted to increase political equality and has shown deference to Congress when it passed laws that harmed “racial, religious or ideological minorities” such as Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, those who live in U.S. territories, Muslim refugees and others.

  • Has Texas Spelled the End of Abortion Rights in America?

    September 3, 2021

    The Supreme Court late Wednesday night took a break from its summer recess to allow the most restrictive abortion law in the nation to take effect in Texas, raising alarm among people who support abortion rights — and even some who don’t. ... Supporters of abortion rights have noted that it is still within the Democratic Party’s power to enshrine abortion rights in law: After all, Democrats still control two branches of government, Nikolas Bowie, a Harvard law professor, points out: Last year, candidate Biden promised that he would pass legislation to make Roe “the law of the land.” Now’s his chance. Congress has many, many options for overruling Texas and protecting reproductive justice nationwide—starting with the Women’s Health Protection Act.

  • 6-Week Abortion Ban in TX Goes Into Effect as Supreme Court Refuses to Intervene

    September 2, 2021

    A Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy went into effect on Wednesday after the United States Supreme Court chose not to enjoin it from being enforced. ... In the absence of Supreme Court intervention, many were urging the Biden administration to take immediate action to address the situation in Texas. “Last year, candidate Biden promised that he would pass legislation to make Roe ‘the law of the land.’ Now’s his chance,” said Niko Bowie, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School.

  • Interior of United States Supreme Court

    Harvard Law School experts testify before the Presidential Commission on SCOTUS

    August 9, 2021

    As part of ongoing analysis, the 36-member Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, 16 of whom are Harvard Law School faculty or alumni, recently solicited testimony from scholars across the political spectrum to weigh in on Court reform.

  • Man in a black sweater standing in front of a tree.

    ‘When you look back on your own career decades from now, make sure you can say that you’ve done the work of justice’

    May 26, 2021

    Nikolas Bowie ’14, the winner of the Sacks-Freund teaching award, imparts lessons he learned from another great teacher — his mother.

  • 2021 Last lectures grid

    Harvard Law School’s 2021 Last Lecture Series

    May 5, 2021

    The Last Lecture Series at Harvard Law School, sponsored annually by the 3L and LL.M. class marshals, is an HLS tradition in which selected faculty members impart insight, advice, and final words of wisdom to the graduating class.

  • A zoom image of a man speaking with a smile near a book shelf a colorful painting to his right

    ‘Our time is full of injustices … You must not be a product of your time,’ says Nikolas Bowie

    May 5, 2021

    “Attaining power does not make you a moral person,” said Nikolas Bowie ’14, assistant professor of law at Harvard Law School, in his April 22 Last Lecture to graduating students.

  • Supreme Court hears bid to deny labor union access to California farms

    March 22, 2021

    Cedar Point Nursery in far northern California, the birthplace of baby strawberry plants that feed a multi-billion dollar fruit industry, is leading a high-stakes legal battle over labor unions and property rights with potentially sweeping implications far beyond agriculture. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments in Cedar Point's challenge to a 45-year-old California law that authorizes union organizers to access farm property for 120 days a year, three hours a day, during non-work periods to meet with workers...Legal scholars say a decision that strikes down the California union access law could have potentially major implications for health and safety inspections, home visits by social workers and anti-discrimination rules nationwide. "I'm sure many restaurants would say the same thing about food inspectors and say, you know, we want to allow customers on our property, we just don't want to allow food inspectors to check to see if there are rats running around the kitchen," said Nikolas Bowie, a Harvard Law School professor and expert in labor law. "That ultimately is what's at stake here."

  • The challenges of teaching the Constitution in the age of Trump

    January 19, 2021

    An op-ed by Nikolas BowieEvery January, I write a letter to my incoming law students to get them excited about learning constitutional law. That letter was not easy to write this time. The past few years have shaken my faith in the Constitution. Like many law professors, I once confidently predicted that the Constitution would never permit a president to ban Muslim travelers or put toddlers in cages. I also thought the document prohibited police officers from inflicting excessive force on Black bodies — despite everything I witnessed to the contrary. Still, as recently as two months ago, I thought there was consensus around some interpretations — for instance, that nothing in the Constitution permitted anyone to single-handedly overturn the results of a presidential election. The white nationalists who stormed the Capitol to reject that interpretation left me questioning how long the document will survive. Yet as surprised as I was, I had to share a difficult truth with my students: This has all been a continuation of — not an aberration from — America’s constitutional tradition. A striking photo from the insurrection depicts a man holding a Confederate flag outside the Senate chamber. Behind him, on permanent display, is a portrait of John C. Calhoun. Calhoun roamed the Capitol shortly after its construction by enslaved workers. He boldly protected the system of racialized violence that oppressed these workers — as did the Constitution.

  • Molly Brady wearing a bright red jacket sits in front of a computer and teaches her class in Zoom

    2020 in pictures

    January 5, 2021

    A look back at the year at HLS.

  • An unbalanced scale weighing COVID against a dollar sign, house, medical symbol, pyramid, and a man teaching

    The law is ‘tested and illuminated during this pandemic’

    September 16, 2020

    In the first colloquium of a sweeping new series, “COVID-19 and the Law,” five Harvard Law faculty members grappled with the challenges, limitations, and opportunities of governmental powers during a public health crisis.

  • U.S. Supreme Court Exterior

    A legal thriller

    July 17, 2020

    HLS Professors Noah Feldman and Nikolas Bowie ’14 weigh in on the biggest takeaways—and surprises—of the Supreme Court's latest term, and what to expect moving forward.

  • Harvard Law Group Argues ICE Court Arrests Unconstitutional

    February 21, 2020

    Massachusetts officials suing Immigration and Customs Enforcement over warrantless arrests at state courthouses got a boost Thursday from Harvard Law School's immigrant and refugee clinic, whose leadership said state courts are being illegally forced to carry out a federal agenda not enumerated in the Constitution and to sideline Sixth Amendment trial rights. The HLS Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program and its leaders, alongside professor Nikolas Bowie, filed the amicus brief Thursday in support of two Boston-area district attorneys, a community organization and a public defender group jointly suing ICE over its warrantless arrests at courthouses where noncitizens have gone for various reasons, including to serve as witnesses in criminal trials. They are currently fighting ICE's motion for dismissal. "The federal government's asserted power to conduct warrantless courthouse arrests is not reasonably necessary for exercising any enumerated power, and the resulting disruption of state court proceedings and interference with the commonwealth's duty to provide access to its courts fails to properly accommodate state interests," the clinic wrote.

  • Professor cited by Dershowitz: Dershowitz is wrong

    January 30, 2020

    Alan Dershowitz, a member of President Trump's legal team, cited Harvard Law Professor Nikolas Bowie as a scholar who supports the argument that abuse of power doesn't warrant impeachment. Bowie told CNN's Anderson Cooper and Jeffrey Toobin that Dershowitz is wrong.

  • Don’t Be Confused by Trump’s Defense. What He Is Accused of Are Crimes.

    January 28, 2020

    An article by Nikolas Bowie: Watching CNN last week, I learned that I’m partly responsible for President Trump’s legal defense. On the screen was one of the president’s lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, explaining his new position that impeachment requires “criminal-like behavior.” When the legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin interjected that “every single law professor” disagreed with him, Mr. Dershowitz rejoined that one professor — me! — was “completely” on his side. Mr. Dershowitz encouraged Mr. Toobin to read a law review article I wrote on the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, in which a former Supreme Court justice, Benjamin Curtis, successfully argued that no one should ever be punished for doing something that wasn’t a crime. Mr. Dershowitz apparently thought my article supported his view that even if Mr. Trump did everything the House has accused him of doing, the president shouldn’t be convicted because he hasn’t been accused of criminal behavior. As an academic, my first reaction was to be grateful that someone had actually read one of my articles. But as a legal academic, my second reaction was confusion. Even if you think impeachment requires a crime, as I do, that belief hardly supports the president’s defense or Mr. Dershowitz’s position. President Trump has been accused of a crime. Two in fact: “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress.”

  • In Defense of Donald Trump

    January 24, 2020

    On Monday, President Trump’s chief lawyers in his impeachment trial, Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone, submitted a 110-page brief to the Senate laying out the case for his acquittal. The articles of impeachment, they say, are “an affront to the Constitution” brought about by a “rigged” “crusade” against a president who “did absolutely nothing wrong.” ... There are a select few scholars, however, who say the consensus should be reconsidered. One is Nikolas Bowie, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School. In 2018, Mr. Bowie suggested in the Harvard Law Review that impeaching a president without any statutory justification conflicts with a fundamental principle of American law: that a crime cannot be retroactively defined. Impeachment without an underlying legal violation also risks setting a dangerous precedent that “would apply not just to someone as unpopular as President Trump but also to future presidents whose policies happen to misalign with a congressional majority,” he wrote. “The philosophical defense that the president should only be impeachable for a defined statutory crime is probably the strongest defense available to Trump’s supporters,” writes Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School who testified in the House impeachment inquiry.

  • Will Puerto Rico Still Be Allowed to Govern Itself?

    October 9, 2019

    An op-ed by Nikolas Bowie: In 1947, Congress passed and President Harry Truman signed a law giving the people of Puerto Rico the right to elect their own governor. Until then, all territories of the United States, including Puerto Rico, had been governed by men appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Most governors had been known more for their relationships to the president than, say, for their ability to speak Spanish. But after that 1947 law, Puerto Rican voters elected Luis Muñoz Marín to begin what would become a transformative governorship. Even as more recent governors have resigned in disgrace, democratic self-government in Puerto Rico has remained. But that could change. Next week, the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider a case that could radically undermine the ability of over four million American citizens — in Puerto Rico, other territories and even the District of Columbia — to elect their own chief executives.

  • When Should a President Be Impeached?

    September 25, 2019

    The president’s critics have found numerous justifications for impeachment throughout his tenure, including obstruction of justice during the Mueller investigation, violations of campaign finance laws in the payment of hush money to two women and what seems to be regular defiance of the Constitution’s emoluments clause...Impeachment is a process whose territory remains largely uncharted, since only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have ever been impeached, and neither was convicted. “Because it has been used so rarely, and because it is a power entrusted to Congress, not the courts, impeachment as a legal process is poorly understood,” Noah Feldman and Jacob Weisberg have written in The New York Review of Books. “There are no judicial opinions that create precedents for how and when to proceed with it.”...But “not all crimes by federal officials have been seen as impeachable,” write Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard, and Joshua Matz, an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law, in their book “To End a Presidency.” So where exactly does the line fall? During Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, Mr. Tribe argued that his conduct did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense because it related to his private life....The argument against this sort of ad hoc impeachment has its roots in Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis’s defense of President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment trial in 1868. As Nikolas Bowie, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School, writes in the Harvard Law Review, Curtis believed that retroactively criminalizing a president’s behavior — inflammatory, racist campaign speeches — would violate a fundamental principle of common law: “There must be some law,” Curtis argued, “otherwise there is no crime.” Mr. Bowie argues that the decision to impeach Mr. Trump without any statutory justification would set a dangerous precedent that “would apply not just to someone as unpopular as President Trump but also to future Presidents whose policies happen to misalign with a congressional majority.”

  • No Republicans named to anti-Citizens United commission created by Massachusetts ballot Question 2

    May 2, 2019

    A former congressman. Law professors. Advocates for campaign finance reform. But no Republicans. The so-called Citizens Commission, created by Question 2 on the November ballot, now has all 15 of its members. The ballot question, which passed with 71% of the vote, established a commission to research and advocate for a constitutional amendment overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United. That decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing a candidate as long as they do not coordinate directly with the candidate. ...The commission includes three professors — Vermont Law School professor Jennifer Taub, of Northampton; Harvard Law School professor Nikolas Bowie, of Cambridge; and Northeastern University political science professor Costas Panagopoulos, of Wellesley.

  • Huawei’s US government lawsuit may lift the air of ‘mystery’ around the Chinese telecoms giant

    March 21, 2019

    Huawei’s lawsuit against the United States government could end up lifting the air of “mystery” surrounding the Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer should details of its ownership structure and relationship with the Chinese government be revealed, according to a leading Chinese law professor. The US Congress has banned federal agencies from using Huawei equipment due to national security concerns, but the Shenzhen-based firm argues the ban is unconstitutional as it singles out a person or a group for punishment without trial. ...“Huawei’s case will turn on whether the court thinks the NDAA is a punishment or a prophylactic qualification,” said Nikolas Bowie, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School. “On one hand, this is a classic example of punishment. Members of Congress said they were giving Huawei the corporate death penalty because of fears of what Huawei has done in the past and might do in the future. “On the other hand, the NDAA can be interpreted as a prophylactic qualification – a regulation – rather than a punishment. Congress certainly has the power to decide that certain types of business are so dangerous to national security that they’re prohibited from working with the government.”

  • illustration of people

    In Their Own Words

    January 29, 2019

    From algorithmic price discrimination to intellectual property and human rights to Indian Nations and the Constitution

  • Judges and their toughest cases

    Judges and their toughest cases

    October 31, 2018

    “Tough Cases,” a new book in which 13 trial judges from criminal, civil, probate, and family courts write candid and poignant firsthand accounts of the trials they can’t forget, was the subject of a lively discussion at a panel sponsored by the Harvard Law School Library, which drew a packed house at Wasserstein Hall in October.

  • The Highest Court in the Land

    July 26, 2018

    ...Directly above the nation's most important tribunal is another type of court, where victors emerge not with five votes and a majority opinion but with 21 points and a margin of at least two. Yes, on the fifth and top floor of the glorious, neoclassical edifice on First Street NE is a basketball court...For some, the haven of the Highest Court was never more welcome than when the justices adjudicated capital cases. On those evenings Noah Feldman, a clerk for Justice David Souter in 1998–99, would go upstairs, often alone, to shoot as he waited for documents, decompressing and considering the gravity of the moment. "It's impossible to overstate the seriousness of how that is taken by all the personnel of the Court, including the clerks. And rightly—a human being's life is in the balance," Feldman says. "Your cortisol is pounding, you want to do everything right and make sure justice is done. And when that was going on, you really needed a break."...On the fifth floor ideological differences dissipate; strict constructionists don't square off against living constitutionalists, nor do liberals take on conservatives for the right to Kennedy's (or, now that he's retiring, Roberts's) swing vote. "It was sort of a place where everyone took off their uniforms and you couldn't tell who was who," says Nikolas Bowie, who clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2015–16. "You were just playing basketball."

  • Lani Guiner with event organizers

    Celebrating Lani

    June 26, 2018

    At an event at Harvard Law School honoring Lani Guinier earlier this year, Susan Sturm invoked a phrase that was familiar to most of the attendees, a mix of Guinier’s family, colleagues, collaborators, friends and students. It was a line that Guinier often used when prodding her students into pushing harder and thinking deeper: “My problem is, if you stop there … ”

  • The NFL Anthem Policy Violates Several State Constitutions

    June 5, 2018

    An op-ed by Nikolas Bowie. Ever since NFL owners announced last month that they plan to fine players who protest on the field during the national anthem, critics have conducted a scavenger hunt of sorts looking for evidence that the NFL’s policy is unconstitutional. Benjamin Sachs has written that the First Amendment, which generally applies only to governments, should apply to the NFL’s policy because the policy was the product of demands by government officials, including the president. Daniel Hemel has suggested that the First Amendment might apply to the NFL’s stadiums because of all the government subsidies used to pay for them. But these critics may be looking for unconstitutionality in the wrong place: It’s a much clearer case that the NFL policy violates a host of state constitutions.

  • ‘Janus’ and the ‘Government Could Not Work’ Doctrine

    April 24, 2018

    Subscription required. SCOTUS seems poised to invalidate compelled public union dues on First Amendment grounds, but some argue the Court's skeptical eye overlooks an implicit doctrine unifying much of its historic jurisprudence, namely that compelled transfers of money (e.g. taxes, minimum wage laws) are regular governmental functions not meriting heightened judicial scrutiny. Nikolas Bowie (Harvard Law School) explains the argument, and his forthcoming paper on the 'Government Could Not Work' doctrine.