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Laurence Tribe

Laurence Tribe

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Laurence Henry Tribe is a professor of constitutional law
Constitutional law
Constitutional law is the body of law which defines the relationship of different entities within a state, namely, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary....

 at Harvard Law School and the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University. He also works with the firm Massey & Gail LLP on a variety of matters.

Tribe is widely recognized as a leading liberal scholar of constitutional law. He is the author of American Constitutional Law (1978), a treatise in that field, and has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court 35 times.

Early life and education

Tribe was born in Shanghai
Shanghai ghetto
The Shanghai ghetto, formally known as the , was an area of approximately one square mile in the Hongkou District of Japanese-occupied Shanghai, to which about 20,000 Jewish refugees were relocated by the Japanese-issued Proclamation Concerning Restriction of Residence and Business of Stateless...

 to parents of Eastern European Jewish descent. He attended Abraham Lincoln High School
Abraham Lincoln High School (San Francisco)
Abraham Lincoln High School is a California Distinguished, fully accredited comprehensive public high school located in the Sunset District of San Francisco, California...

 in San Francisco, California. He holds an A.B. in mathematics, summa cum laude from Harvard College (1962), and a J.D.
Juris Doctor
Juris Doctor is a professional doctorate and first professional graduate degree in law.The degree was first awarded by Harvard University in the United States in the late 19th century and was created as a modern version of the old European doctor of law degree Juris Doctor (see etymology and...

, magna cum laude from Harvard Law School (1966), where he was a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau is the oldest student-run legal services office in the country, founded in 1913. Located at 23 Everett Street in Cambridge, MA, the Bureau's mission is to provide an important community service while giving student attorneys the opportunity to develop professional...

. Tribe was a national champion policy debater at Harvard, and later a college coach and high school summer institute teacher.


Tribe served as a law clerk
Law clerk
A law clerk or a judicial clerk is a person who provides assistance to a judge in researching issues before the court and in writing opinions. Law clerks are not court clerks or courtroom deputies, who are administrative staff for the court. Most law clerks are recent law school graduates who...

 to Matthew Tobriner on the California Supreme Court from 1966–67, and as a law clerk to Potter Stewart
Potter Stewart
Potter Stewart was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. During his tenure, he made, among other areas, major contributions to criminal justice reform, civil rights, access to the courts, and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.-Education:Stewart was born in Jackson, Michigan,...

 of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1967–68. He joined the Harvard Law School faculty as an assistant professor in 1968, receiving tenure in 1972.

In addition to his record as a scholar, Tribe is noted for his extensive support of liberal legal causes. He is one of the co-founders of the liberal American Constitution Society, the law and policy organization formed to counter the conservative Federalist Society
Federalist Society
The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, most frequently called simply the Federalist Society, is an organization of conservatives seeking reform of the current American legal system in accordance with a textualist and/or originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution...

, and is one of a number of scholars at Harvard Law School who have expressed their support for animal rights
Animal rights
Animal rights, also known as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings...

. He has argued many high-profile cases, including one for Al Gore
Al Gore
Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States , under President Bill Clinton. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for President in the 2000 U.S. presidential election....

 during the disputed U.S. presidential election, 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Tribe's client in Bowers v. Hardwick
Bowers v. Hardwick
Bowers v. Hardwick, , is a United States Supreme Court decision that upheld, in a 5-4 ruling, the constitutionality of a Georgia sodomy law criminalizing oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults when applied to homosexuals. Seventeen years after Bowers v. Hardwick, the Supreme Court...

in 1986, holding that a Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

 state law criminalizing sodomy
Sodomy is an anal or other copulation-like act, especially between male persons or between a man and animal, and one who practices sodomy is a "sodomite"...

, as applied to consensual acts between persons of the same sex, did not violate fundamental liberties under the principle of substantive due process
Due process
Due process is the legal code that the state must venerate all of the legal rights that are owed to a person under the principle. Due process balances the power of the state law of the land and thus protects individual persons from it...

. However, he was vindicated in 2003, when the Supreme Court overruled Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas
Lawrence v. Texas
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 , is a landmark United States Supreme Court case. In the 6-3 ruling, the Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas and, by proxy, invalidated sodomy laws in the thirteen other states where they remained in existence, thereby making same-sex sexual activity legal in...

. He wrote the ACLU's amicus curiae
Amicus curiae
An amicus curiae is someone, not a party to a case, who volunteers to offer information to assist a court in deciding a matter before it...

 brief supporting Lawrence, who was represented by Lambda Legal
Lambda Legal
Lambda Legal is an American civil rights organization that focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender communities as well as people living with HIV/AIDS through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.Lambda's founder William J. Thom, Esq...


Tribe also represented General Electric
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

 in its defense against its liability under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act ("Superfund"), in which GE and Tribe unsuccessfully argued that the act unconstitutionally violated General Electric's due process rights.

He actively supported the candidacy of President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 and described Obama as "the best student I ever had," a phrase he also used to describe Kathleen Sullivan
Kathleen Sullivan
Kathleen Marie Sullivan is a professor at the Stanford Law School and name partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, a litigation-only law firm with offices in California, New York, Silicon Valley, Chicago, San Francisco, Germany, London, and Tokyo where she chairs their national appellate...

. Alongside Harvard's Cass Sunstein
Cass Sunstein
Cass R. Sunstein is an American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics, who currently is the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration...

, Tribe served as judicial adviser to Obama's campaign
Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2008
Barack Obama, then junior United States Senator from Illinois, announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States in Springfield, Illinois, on February 10, 2007. On August 27, 2008, he was declared nominee of the Democratic Party for the 2008 presidential election...

. In February 2010, he was named "Senior Counselor for Access to Justice" in the Department of Justice
United States Department of Justice
The United States Department of Justice , is the United States federal executive department responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice, equivalent to the justice or interior ministries of other countries.The Department is led by the Attorney General, who is nominated...

. He resigned this position, citing health reasons in November 2010 http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2010/11/18_tribe.html.

Academic investigation

In 2004, Tribe admitted he had failed to attribute several specific phrases and a sentence in his 1985 book, God Save this Honorable Court, to a 1974 book by Henry J. Abraham. After an investigation headed by former Harvard President Derek Bok, Tribe was reprimanded by Harvard President Lawrence Summers
Lawrence Summers
Lawrence Henry Summers is an American economist. He served as the 71st United States Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. He was Director of the White House United States National Economic Council for President Barack Obama until November 2010.Summers is the...

 and Law School Dean Elena Kagan
Elena Kagan
Elena Kagan is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, serving since August 7, 2010. Kagan is the Court's 112th justice and fourth female justice....

 for "a significant lapse in proper academic practice", but they concluded that Tribe's error was unintentional.

Personal life

Tribe has two children, Mark
Mark Tribe
Mark Tribe is an American artist. He is the founder of Rhizome, a not-for-profit arts organization based in New York City....

 and Kerry, who are both nationally recognized visual artists.


A complete list of the 34 cases Tribe has argued in the U.S. Supreme Court as of the end of 2005 is as follows:
Case Citation Year Outcome
Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia 1981 win
Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness 1981 loss
Crawford v. Board of Education 1982 loss
Larkin v. Grendel’s Den 1982 win
White v. Massachusetts Council 1983 win
Pacific Gas & Electric v. California 1983 win
Hawaii Housing Auth. v. Midkiff 1984 win
Northeast Bancorp v. Fed. Reserve 1985 win
Board of Education v. National Gay Task Force 1985 win
Fisher v. City of Berkeley 1986 win
Bowers v. Hardwick
Bowers v. Hardwick
Bowers v. Hardwick, , is a United States Supreme Court decision that upheld, in a 5-4 ruling, the constitutionality of a Georgia sodomy law criminalizing oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults when applied to homosexuals. Seventeen years after Bowers v. Hardwick, the Supreme Court...

1986 loss
Pennzoil v. Texaco 1986 win
Schweiker v. Chilicky
Schweiker v. Chilicky
Schweiker v. Chilicky, 487 U.S. 412 , was a United States Supreme Court decision that established limitations on implied causes of action. The Court determined that a cause of action would not be implied for the violation of rights where the U.S...

1988 loss
Granfinanciera v. Nordberg 1989 loss
Sable Communications v. FCC 1989 draw
Adams Fruit v. Barrett 1990 win
Rust v. Sullivan
Rust v. Sullivan
Rust v. Sullivan, , was a United States Supreme Court case decided in 1991. The case concerned the legality and constitutionality of Department of Health and Human Services regulations on the use of funds spent by the U.S. federal government to promote family planning...

1991 loss
Cipollone v. Liggett 1992 win
TXO v. Alliance Resources 1993 win
Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg
Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg
Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg, 512 U.S. 415 , was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that held that an amendment to the Oregon state constitution disallowing judicial review of the size of punitive damages was a violation of due process.-Decision:In a products liability action,...

1994 loss
U.S. v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone 1996 draw
Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party 1997 loss
Vacco v. Quill
Vacco v. Quill
Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793 , is a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States regarding the right to die. It ruled that a New York ban on physician-assisted suicide was constitutional, and preventing doctors from assisting their patients, even those terminally ill and/or in great...

1997 loss
Amchem Products v. Windsor 1997 win
Baker v. General Motors 1998 win
AT&T v. Iowa Utilities Board 1999 loss
Ortiz v. Fibreboard 1999 win
Bush v. Gore I
Bush v. Gore
Bush v. Gore, , is the landmark United States Supreme Court decision on December 12, 2000, that effectively resolved the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush. Only eight days earlier, the United States Supreme Court had unanimously decided the closely related case of Bush v...

2000 loss
New York Times Co. v. Tasini
New York Times Co. v. Tasini
New York Times Co. v. Tasini, 533 U.S. 483 , is a leading decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of copyright in the contents of a newspaper database...

2001 loss
U.S. v. United Foods 2001 win
FCC v. NextWave 2002 win
State Farm v. Campbell 2003 loss
Nike v. Kasky 2003 loss
Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association 2005 loss

Tribe has argued 26 cases in the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals:
Case Citation Circuit Year Outcome
Worldwide Church of God v. California 623 F.2d 613 9th Cir. 1980 loss
Grendel's Den v. Goodwin 662 F.2d 102 1st Cir. 1981 win
Pacific Legal Foundation v. State Energy Resources 659 F.2d 903 9th Cir. 1981 win
United States v. Sun Myung Moon 718 F.2d 1210 2d Cir. 1983 loss
Romany v. Colegio de Abogados 742 F.2d 32 1st Cir. 1984 win
Westmoreland v. CBS 752 F.2d 16 2d Cir. 1984 loss
Colombrito v. Kelly 764 F.2d 122 2d Cir. 1985 win
Texaco v. Pennzoil 784 F.2d 1133 2d Cir. 1986 loss
U.S. v. Bank of New England 821 F.2d 844 1st Cir. 1987 loss
U.S. v. Gallo 859 F.2d 1078 2d Cir. 1988 loss
U.S. v. GAF Corporation 884 F.2d 670 2d Cir. 1989 loss
U.S. v. Western Electric Company 900 F.2d 283 D.C. Cir. 1999 win
Fineman v. Armstrong World Industries 980 F.2d 171 D.C. Cir. 1992 draw
U.S. v. Western Electric Company 993 F.2d 1572 D.C. Cir. 1993 win
Lightning Lube v. Witco Corporation 4 F.3d 1153 3d Cir. 1993 draw
Hopkins v. Dow Corning Corporation 33 F.3d 1116 9th Cir. 1994 win
Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone v. U.S. 42 F.3d 181 4th Cir. 1994 win
Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc. 83 F.3d 610 3d Cir. 1996 win
BellSouth Corp. v. F.C.C. 144 F.3d 58 D.C. Cir. 1998 loss
SBC Communications v. F.C.C. 154 F.3d 226 5th Cir. 1998 loss
City of Dallas v. F.C.C. F.3d 341 5th Cir. 1999 draw
U.S. West v. Tristani 10th Cir. 1999 loss
U.S. West v. F.C.C. 10th Cir. 1999 win
Southwest Voter Registration v. Shelley 9th Cir. 2003 loss
Pacific Gas and Elec. v. California 9th Cir. 2003 loss
General Electric v. E.P.A. D.C. Cir. 2004 win


  • The Invisible Constitution (2008)
  • American Constitutional Law (treatise) (1978, 1979, 1988, and 2000)
  • On Reading the Constitution (1991) (co-author with Michael Dorf)
  • Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes (1990)
  • Constitutional Choices (1985)
  • God Save This Honorable Court: How the Choice of Supreme Court Justices Shapes Our History (1985)
  • The Supreme Court: Trends and Developments (1979, 1980, 1982, 1983)
  • When Values Conflict: Essays on Environmental Analysis, Discourse, and Decision (1976) (ed.)
  • The American Presidency: Its Constitutional Structure (1974)
  • Channeling Technology Through Law (1973)
  • Environmental Protection (1971) (co-author with Louis Jaffe)
  • Technology: Processes of Assessment and Choice (1969)

  • 'The Curvature of Constitutional Space: What Lawyers Can Learn From Modern Physics' (1989) 103 Harvard Law Review
    Harvard Law Review
    The Harvard Law Review is a journal of legal scholarship published by an independent student group at Harvard Law School.-Overview:According to the 2008 Journal Citation Reports, the Review is the most cited law review and has the second-highest impact factor in the category "law" after the...