Cass Sunstein ’78, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), will return to the Harvard Law School faculty as Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law following his planned departure in August from the Obama Administration, Dean Martha Minow announced today. Sunstein will also be the director of the new Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy. The news came in tandem with a White House announcement that Sunstein, one of the world’s preeminent legal scholars, had decided to return to teaching after well over three years of service in the Obama Administration.
Sunstein was on the HLS faculty prior to his 2009 nomination and confirmation as OIRA administrator, a job widely viewed as one of the most important in the current administration. After a two-year leave of absence from Harvard to serve in Washington, D.C., he relinquished his Harvard position in order to stay in government for a third year and beyond.
“I’m thrilled to announce that Cass Sunstein has accepted the faculty’s invitation to rejoin the Harvard Law School faculty,” said Minow. “We welcome him back after his years of tremendous service to the nation in his key role as the administrator of OIRA. Cass is widely viewed as the consummate and most wide-ranging legal scholar and teacher of our time, possessing interdisciplinary expertise of stunning breadth, spanning the fields of constitutional law and theory, administrative law and policy, behavioral economics and law, and environmental law. His work powerfully explores and reframes crucial issues; he finds and deploys cutting edge work from other fields, always with a fresh eye, weighing points of view from many angles and disciplines.”
“With Cass’s passion for figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and why, he infused his government service with an acute awareness of human behavior and motivation. It is our tremendous good fortune that he will now bring the lessons and insights from his extraordinary experience in government to the Law School and to the wider university. There is no one who more generously and selflessly enlists the best thinking of colleagues, students and anyone with a valuable idea. We are eager and delighted to welcome him back to his home here at Harvard.”
As the administrator of OIRA, Sunstein has overseen the federal government’s entire regulatory process, and has helped to tackle a broad range of regulatory issues, including an overhaul of the financial services industry, healthcare reform, initiatives to reduce deaths and accidents on the highways, and multiple efforts to protect safety, health, and the environment. He has overseen the ambitious government-wide “lookback” at rules on the books, designed in large part to reduce regulatory burdens. He has also lead a series of efforts to promote public participation in the regulatory process; to ensure consideration of flexible, low-cost approaches; and to require disciplined consideration of the costs and benefits of regulations.
“Working for the Obama Administration has been an extraordinary honor,” Sunstein said. “I am thrilled to be rejoining the Harvard faculty and to have the opportunity to work with the countless sensational teachers and students who are there.”
President Barack Obama ’91 said: “For the last three and a half years, Cass Sunstein has helped drive a series of historic accomplishments on behalf of the American people. From putting in place lifesaving protections for America’s families, to eliminating tens of millions of hours of paperwork burdens for our nation’s citizens and businesses, Cass has shown that it is possible to support economic growth without sacrificing health, safety, and the environment.
“Cass has shepherded our review of existing rules to get rid of those that cost too much or no longer make sense, an effort that is already on track to save billions of dollars. With these reforms and his tenacious promotion of cost-benefit analysis, his efforts will benefit Americans for years to come. I can’t thank him enough for his friendship and for his years of exceptional service.”
A prolific scholar, Sunstein is known for his multifaceted expertise in a variety of disciplines, especially in the emerging field of law and behavioral economics, which seeks to shape law and policy around research on how people actually behave in various situations when faced with choices. He has thought extensively about how laws and regulation should incorporate that research in response to some of the biggest hazards of the 21st century.
The author or co-author of more than 25 books and hundreds of scholarly articles, Sunstein is one of the most cited law professors 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.
His recent works include “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” (2d ed. 2009, with Richard Thaler), “Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide” (2009 ), and “On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done” (2010).
Sunstein first joined the HLS faculty in 2008 as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law and as founding director of the HLS Program on Risk Regulation. Prior to joining the HLS faculty, he had served as the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence, a joint appointment of the law school and political science department at the University of Chicago.
In 2007, Sunstein was awarded the prestigious Henry M. Phillips Prize by the American Philosophical Society, which is given every three years for lifetime achievement in jurisprudence. He has frequently provided expert testimony to congressional committees, including the Senate Judiciary Committee during its consideration of Supreme Court nominees. Sunstein was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1992 and the American Law Institute in 1990.
He has appeared on numerous television and radio programs and on the pages of many newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Harper’s, The New Republic and The American Prospect.
Following his graduation from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Sunstein went on to clerk for Justice Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and then for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. He also worked in the U.S. Department of Justice as an attorney-advisor in the influential Office of Legal Counsel.