On April 15th, 2002, the NYU Annual Survey of American Law dedicated its 59th Volume to noted Supreme Court advocate and constitutional law scholar Laurence H. Tribe. Speaking at the dedication in Tribe’s honor were, among others, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, federal judge John Koeltl, leading political consultant Bob Shrum, and New York University President John Sexton. The tributes are published in Volume 59, Issue 1.
Laurence H. Tribe, 61, is the Ralph S. Tyler, Jr., Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, where he has taught since 1968 and where he was awarded the Sacks-Freund Prize for Teaching Excellence, having been voted in 2000 the professor who most excels “in teaching ability, attentiveness to students, and overall contributions to student life.” Tribe has received numerous honorary degrees, most recently a Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) from Colgate University (1997) and a Doctor of Humane Letters (LH.D.) from Hebrew University (1998). His latest books are volume 1 of the third edition of American Constitutional Law (2000); On Reading the Constitution (1991); and Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes (1990).
Born in China to Russian Jewish parents, Tribe came to the United States at age six, attended public schools in San Francisco, entered Harvard College in 1958 at age 16, received his A.B. from Harvard summa cum laude in Mathematics in 1962 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School magna cum laude in 1966, clerked for Justice Mathew O. Tobriner of the California Supreme Court in 1966-67, and clerked for Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967-68. A tenured Harvard professor at age 28, Tribe was 35 when Time magazine named him one of the nation’s ten most outstanding law professors and 38 when he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Tribe’s treatise, American Constitutional Law, whose first edition was published in 1978, was identified in The Journal of Legal Studies (January 2000) as the most frequently cited legal text published in the second half of the 20th century. Former Solicitor General Erwin Griswold wrote: “It may well be that no book, and no lawyer not on the [Supreme] Court, has ever had a greater influence on the development of American constitutional law.” And the New York Times book review of the 2001 edition of Alexander Hamilton: Writings, November 2001, opined that:
“For a dozen years, Hamilton stood in relation to the presidency roughly as Laurence Tribe or Richard Posner stands to some of the justices in the Supreme Court today: without holding the office, he was kind enough to do the thinking necessary for those who did. (Washington was grateful; Adams resentful.) His power consisted merely in his words.”
Author of over one hundred other books and articles, Professor Tribe also helped draft the new Constitutions of South Africa, Russia, the Czech Republic, and the Marshall Islands. In addition, Tribe is a leading appellate advocate, having prevailed in some 80 percent of the many U.S. Circuit Court cases he has argued and in nearly two-thirds of the over 30 cases he has presented to the U.S. Supreme Court. He argued in the Supreme Court for the right of sexual privacy in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) (losing 5-4); and he won the Supreme Court cases establishing, among other things, that a state may impose a moratorium on nuclear power plants (Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. California Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission (1983)), that the public and press have a right to attend criminal trials (Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia (1980)), that government power may not be delegated to a church (Larkin v. Grendel’s Den (1982)), that a federal injunction that circumvents a state’s own judicial processes for protecting federal rights while enforcing a multi-billion dollar state court judgment violates principles of federalism (Pennzoil v. Texaco (1982)), that cigarette companies may be held liable to smokers and to the states for the medical costs of smoking despite the companies’ compliance with federal labeling requirements (Cipollone v. Liggett (1982)), and that class action settlements must comply with stringent requirements to protect all affected subclasses (in rulings that overturned asbestos-related settlements of $1.3 billion and $1.53 billion, respectively, in Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor (1997) and Ortiz v. Fibreboard (1999)).
Reflecting on this record, The New Republic described Tribe as “the premier Supreme Court litigator of the decade,” and the Northwestern Law Review wrote: “Never before in American history has an individual simultaneously achieved Tribe’s preeminence both as a practitioner and as a scholar of constitutional law.”
Laurence and Carolyn Tribe have been married since 1964 and have two children, Mark, 36, and Kerry, 30.
Portions of this dedication have been published in Volume 59, Issue 1.