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In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly relied on history to decide major questions of constitutional law. But the Court’s historical accounts are often deeply flawed, departing significantly from historians’ understandings of the past and their shared methods for creating accurate interpretations of it.

To help change the national legal conversation on history and the Constitution, the Brennan Center has convened a council of 18 expert historians from leading institutions nationwide.

The council’s members include winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and the MacArthur Fellowship, as well as numerous awards given by history’s top professional organizations. Their expertise spans from early American history through the 20th century and covers the gamut of topics relevant to today’s biggest constitutional questions.

The council will advise the Brennan Center’s experts on the historical dimensions of major legal issues, encourage accurate understandings of the United States’ past, and foster more responsible approaches to history in the courts as judges increasingly grapple with whether and how the past should inform their rulings. The council’s members have diverse views on how history matters to the law. The council as a body does not necessarily speak for all its members, nor do its members necessarily endorse the positions that the Brennan Center takes on historical matters.

The council’s members and their areas of expertise are listed below. Their institutional affiliations are provided for identification purposes only.

Council Members

  • Holly Brewer

    University of Maryland — Burke Chair of American Cultural and Intellectual History and Associate Professor of History
  • Tomiko Brown-Nagin

    Harvard University — Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History; Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
  • Gregory Downs

    University of California-Davis — Professor of History
  • Laura Edwards

    Princeton University — Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty and Professor of History
  • Tera W. Hunter

    Princeton University — Edwards Professor of American History; Chair, Department of African American Studies
  • Jonathan Gienapp

    Stanford University — Associate Professor of Law; Associate Professor of History
  • Alexander Keyssar

    Harvard Kennedy School — Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy
  • Jane Manners

    Beasley School of Law, Temple University — Assistant Professor
  • Kate Masur

    Northwestern University — Professor of History; Board of Visitors Professor
  • Dylan Penningroth

    University of California-Berkeley School of Law — Professor of Law and Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of History; Associate Dean, Program in Jurisprudence and Social Policy/Legal Studies
  • Farah Peterson

    University of Chicago Law School — Professor of Law
  • Jack Rakove

    Stanford University — William R. Coe Professor of History and Professor of Political Science, Emeritus
  • Gautham Rao

    American University — Associate Professor of History
  • Noah Rosenblum

    New York University School of Law — Assistant Professor of Law
  • Rachel Shelden

    Pennsylvania State University — Associate Professor of History; Director, George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center
  • William Treanor

    Georgetown University — Paul Dean Professor of Law; Dean of the Law Center and Executive Vice President
  • Jennifer Tucker

    Wesleyan University — Professor of History; Director, Center for the Study of Guns and Society
  • Rosemarie Zagarri

    George Mason University — Distinguished University Professor and Professor of History

Work & Resources

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VIDEO

A Supreme Fact-Check

The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority has appealed to history to justify its recent opinions that have eviscerated reproductive freedom, gun control, and affirmative action. With its hard originalist turn, the Court has signaled that more such opinions are in store. But what if the history that the Court has relied on is flat-out wrong?

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History & The Constitution

The Brennan Center is working to change the legal conversation on history and the Constitution, by critiquing the U.S. Supreme Court’s abuses of history and pioneering new ways to use history to protect our constitutional rights.