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Press Release

Brennan Center Announces Inaugural Steven M. Polan Fellows in Constitutional Law and History

Drawn from the ranks of law, academia, and public interest advocacy, the fellows will join the front lines of the fight for the future of the U.S. Constitution.

May 15, 2024

The Brennan Center for Justice is pleased to announce the selection of the first five recipients of the Steven M. Polan Fellowship in Constitutional Law and History. The Polan Fellows program provides a platform for outstanding individuals — including legal practitioners, advocates, and scholars — to spur urgently needed debate over the meaning and promise of the U.S. Constitution.

Polan Fellows will be a pillar of the Brennan Center’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s turn toward originalism, a deeply flawed method of constitutional interpretation that threatens to roll back centuries of hard-won progress on reproductive rights, gun safety, racial and environmental justice, and more.

The inaugural Polan Fellows, drawn from the ranks of law, academia, and public interest advocacy, will join the front lines of the fight for the future of the Constitution. Deploying a variety of strategies — including legal and historical research, original writing, symposia and events, and public education projects — the fellows will hone new approaches to reclaim our Constitution as an enduring yet evolving plan of government rooted in democratic values.

Maureen Edobor is an assistant professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law. As a Polan Fellow, Edobor will organize forums marking the 250th anniversary of the Articles of Confederation, the United States’s first constitution. This series will consider why the framers replaced the weak, decentralized system of government under the Articles with our current Constitution — and consider its relevance to 21st-century originalism.

Duncan Hosie is an associate in the Orrick law firm’s Supreme Court and appellate practice. With support from the Polan Fellowship, Hosie will produce scholarship documenting the rapid pace of legal change under the Roberts Court. He will also organize events focused on the constitutional vision of two leading jurists of the Warren Court, Justices William J. Brennan Jr. and Thurgood Marshall.

Terrence L. Johnson is a professor of African American religious studies at the Harvard Divinity School. Johnson’s fellowship will apply a religious framework to constitutional interpretation to better understand originalism as a tool that sustains racism and gender bias. He will also host an event exploring Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s deployment and interrogation of originalist arguments.

Brian Phillips Murphy is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University–Newark. As a Polan Fellow, Murphy will pursue twin projects relating to early state constitutions: publishing searchable, digital editions of the New York and Pennsylvania constitutions and sponsoring academic seminars on the significance of state constitutions in the American federal and constitutional tradition.

Diann Rust-Tierney is the executive director of the Racial Justice Institute at Georgetown University, where she also serves as an adjunct professor of law. Rust-Tierney’s project will catalyze new scholarship on the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment to preserve the current analysis based on American society’s “evolving standards of decency,” which originalist advocacy seeks to overturn.

The fellowship is named in memory of Steven Marc Polan (1951–2023), a 1976 graduate of NYU School of Law. After many years of public service in New York City and State governments, Steve became a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, with a practice devoted to developing and improving public infrastructure.

Inspired by his lifelong commitment to democratic values, the Brennan Center has launched this multiyear initiative to counter originalism and advance sounder alternative approaches to constitutional interpretation. This project, initiated by Steve during his lifetime, is made possible through the generous support of his family. 

For more information about the Polan Fellows program, please contact John Kowal at