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Prof. Richard Pildes

Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law, New York University School of Law
Richard Pildes

Richard Pildes is one of the nation’s leading scholars of public law and a specialist in legal issues affecting democracy. He is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received recognition as a Guggenheim Fellow and a Carnegie Scholar. In the area of democracy, Pildes, along with the co-authors of his acclaimed casebook, The Law of Democracy: Legal Structure of the Political Process (now in its third edition), has helped to create a revolutionary field of study in the law schools. While issues of democracy have been in the background of many public-law courses, The Law of Democracy systematically explores issues of democratic theory in the concrete institutional, policy, and doctrinal settings in which they have arisen historically: issues such as the right to vote, the role of direct democracy, the appropriate role of political parties, the financing of democratic elections, and the representation of minority interests in democratic institutions. Pildes is widely considered one of the nation’s leading scholars on such topics as the Voting Rights Act, alternative voting systems (such as cumulative voting), the history of disfranchisement in the United States, and the general relationship between constitutional law and democratic politics in the design of democratic institutions themselves. Respect for his expertise in these areas is reflected in frequent citations of his work in U.S. Supreme Court opinions, the publication of his work in several languages, and his frequent public lectures and appearances, including his nomination with the NBC News Team for an Emmy Award for coverage of the 2000 Presidential election litigation.

Pildes has also written on other theoretical and practical aspects of public policy. This work includes analysis of how to improve design of risk regulation the health, safety, and environmental fields He is also one of the leading theorists of the “expressive function” of law, a view that emphasizes the expressive dimensions of action as well as the more material consequences action produces. In a related vein, Pildes has long stressed the importance of attending to the “cultural consequences” of public policies, and his work has been one of the catalysts for the emerging scholarly emphasis on the relationship between formal law and informal social norms.

Pildes is also an engaged public intellectual and an active public-law litigator. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The American Prospect, and similar journals. Apart from his academic work, Pildes has also served as counsel to a group of former chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission in litigation challenging the constitutionality of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; as counsel in election litigation to the Puerto Rico Electoral Commission; as counsel to the government of Puerto Rico; as a federal court-appointed independent expert on voting rights litigation; and as counsel in successful Supreme Court litigation that challenged the way the United States Tax Court operated.

Pildes received his A.B. in physical chemistry summa cum laude from Princeton, and his J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard. He was Supreme Court Note Editor on the Harvard Law Review. He clerked for Judge Abner J. Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court, after which he practiced law in Boston. He began his academic career at the University of Michigan Law School, where he was assistant and then full professor of law from 1988 until joining the NYU School of Law faculty in 2000. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Chicago Law School, Harvard Law School, the University of Texas School of Law, and was a fellow in Harvard’s prestigious Program in Ethics and the Professions from 1998-1999.

In addition to his course on The Law of Democracy, Pildes also teaches courses in legislation, constitutional law, and administrative law.


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Publications and Multimedia
The Kagan Nomination
Online Debate
May 11, 2010
Voting Rights--and Wrongs: The Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections - Event Audio/Video
Civil Rights Practice Group and the American Enterprise Institute
June 11, 2009
Supreme Court Term
Online Debate
June 27, 2008