Sanford Victor Levinson
Levinson in 2017
Born (1941-06-17) June 17, 1941 (age 79)
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materDuke University (A.B.)
Stanford Law School (J.D.)
Harvard University (Ph.D.)
Known forbook Our Undemocratic Constitution
Scientific career
FieldsConstitutional Law, Politics
InstitutionsUniversity of Texas

Sanford Victor Levinson (born June 17, 1941)[1] is an American legal scholar, best known for his writings on constitutional law and as a professor at the University of Texas Law School. He is notable for his criticism of the United States Constitution as well as excessive presidential power[2] and has been widely quoted on such topics as the Second Amendment, gay marriage, nominations to the Supreme Court, and other legal issues. He has called for a Second Constitutional Convention of the United States.

Early life

Levinson is Jewish.[3] He received a B.A. degree from Duke University, a J.D. degree from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. degree from Harvard University.[4][5][6]

Academic career

Levinson was a member of the department of Politics at Princeton.[4][7] Levinson taught law at Georgetown, Yale, Harvard, New York University, Boston University,[4] Central European University in Budapest[dubious ], Panthéon-Assas University, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.,[6][8] Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem[9] London, Auckland and Melbourne.[5] In 2001, Levinson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[7] In 2010, he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association.[5] In 1980, he joined the University of Texas School of Law at Austin, Texas where he is also a professor of government. He holds the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair in Law.[7]

Books, scholarship, activism

Levinson is quoted often in publications about numerous topics involving law.[10][11] Levinson has described himself as "a card-carrying A.C.L.U. member who doesn't own a gun" who has argued that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution limits the government's authority to regulate private gun ownership.[12][13] Levinson's opinions on Constitutional Law have been reported in the media including his opinions about Second Amendment cases.[14] Levinson has been a panelist on programs sponsored by the Association of American Law Schools and has spoken on topics alongside prominent lawyers such as Kenneth W. Starr.[15] Levinson has been identified as a "prominent liberal law professor"[16] and been grouped with other professors including Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard and Akhil Reed Amar of Yale.[17] Levinson's opinion has been cited during the nominating process for Supreme Court nominees.[11]

Levinson has been critical of Supreme Court justices who have stayed in office despite medical deterioration based on longevity; for example, Levinson criticized Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist for a "degree of egoistic narcissism" by declaring six weeks before his death of his intention to stay on.[18] Levinson has called for term limits for Supreme Court justices along with a growing list of "scholars across the ideological spectrum."[18] He has published comments critical of life tenure for Supreme Court justices.[19]

Levinson is particularly noted for his "seminal article" in the Yale Law Journal entitled The Embarrassing Second Amendment.[17][20] He argued that the Second Amendment doesn't offer either gun rights or gun control advocates a refuge.[21] He argued "society must decide the issue of gun control on practical as well as on constitutional grounds ... the issue is to what extent does the Second Amendment permit the Government to do what it wants in controlling firearms, just as we have to establish the extent to which it can limit speech or break into your house without a warrant.[21] Levinson has criticized liberal lawyers as treating "the Second Amendment as the equivalent of an embarrassing relative whose mention brings a quick change of subject."[21] He has argued that the Constitution protects some personal ownership of firearms but admits that "courts are likely to rule that Congress can do almost anything short of an outright prohibition of owning guns."[22] Levinson's article was cited in Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion in Printz v. United States.

Levinson taught a course called Torture, Law and Lawyers at Harvard Law School in 2005.[23] Levinson has written essays in The New York Times.[24] Levinson edited Torture: A Collection (2005).[25] A reviewer commented: "What's most striking about these essays is that despite their abstract and theoretical content, they generally do not contradict the depiction of actual interrogators described by Mackey and Miller. The wall between the liberal campus and a conservative, utilitarian-minded military breaks down because the questions are so serious that few of this book's contributors want to engage in polemics, and few – to their credit – ever seem completely comfortable with their own conclusions."[25]

Levinson has been a critic of the unitary executive and excessive presidential power. In the magazine Dissent, he argued that "constitutional dictators have become the American norm."[26] Presidents "have an incentive to declare emergencies" and assume "quasi-dictatorial powers," wrote Levinson.[26] Levinson was highly critical of president George W. Bush who he regarded as possibly the "absolutely worst president."[26] Levinson notes that President Obama seems likely to repeat the pattern of expansive presidential power.[26] He wrote an essay titled "The Decider Can Become a Dictator" in which he criticized a system which allows presidents to make dictatorial decisions of great consequence without providing ways to discipline those who display bad judgment.[27][28] Levinson commented about a ban on gay marriage proposed by former President George W. Bush in legal terms as a Constitutional issue.[29]

Levinson has criticized the Constitution (invoking comparisons to Thomas Jefferson) for what he considers to be its numerous failings, including an inability to remove the President despite lack of confidence by lawmakers and the public, the President's veto power as being "extraordinarily undemocratic", the difficulty of enacting Constitutional amendments through Article 5 and a lack of more representation in the Senate for highly populated states such as California.[30] He also criticizes the primary process in which important states which aren't considered "battleground states" are ignored by presidential candidates.[30] He's often called for a Second Constitutional Convention: "We ought to think about it almost literally every day, and then ask, 'Well, to what extent is government organized to realize the noble visions of the preamble?' That the preamble begins, 'We the people.' It's a notion of a people that can engage in self-determination."[8] Levinson's book Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It) calls for "wholesale revision of our nation's founding document."[31]

Levinson appeared on the Bill Moyers television program in 2007.[8] Levinson's research interests include American Constitutional development, Constitutional design, law, religion, multiculturalism, society, and theories of Constitutional Interpretation.[5] Levinson participates in a blog called Balkinization which focuses on constitutional, First Amendment, and other civil liberties issues[4] as well as a blog called Our Undemocratic Constitution. With Jeffrey K. Tulis, he is co-editor of the Johns Hopkins Series in Constitutional Thought and also of a new series, Constitutional Thinking at University Press of Kansas.


See also


  1. ^ date & year of birth according to LCNAF CIP data
  2. ^ Sanford Levinson (February 5, 2009). ""Wartime Presidents and the Constitution: From Lincoln to Obama" – speech by Sanford Levinson at Wayne Morse Center". Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics. Retrieved 2009-10-10.[dead link]
  3. ^ Hannah Natanson (November 25, 2016). "Anti-Semitic Postcard Promises to 'Drain the Swamp' at Harvard Law". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2019-10-02.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i staff (2017-01-21). "Sanford V Levinson". Texas Law – University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  5. ^ a b c d staff (2017-01-21). "Sanford Levinson". Harvard Law School. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  6. ^ a b staff (2009-10-10). "Sanford V Levinson (bio circa 2011)". School of Law – University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original on 2011-01-26. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  7. ^ a b c "Speaker: Sanford Levinson". 2009-10-10. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  8. ^ a b c Robin Holland (December 21, 2007). "Sanford Levinson". Public Broadcasting Service: Bill Moyers' Journal. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  9. ^ staff (2010-06-15). "Hartman Institute Philosophy Conference to Examine Concept of 'Universal Religiosity' June 20–23, 2010". Shalom Hartman Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  10. ^ Joan Biskupic (2008-11-06). "New solicitor general on Obama to-do list". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  11. ^ a b Joan Biskupic (2009-07-13). "With Sotomayor comes new era in judicial politics". USA Today. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  12. ^ Andrea Sachs (May 29, 1995). "WHY THE SECOND AMENDMENT IS A LOSER IN COURT". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  13. ^ Adam Liptak (March 16, 2009). "Few Ripples From Supreme Court Ruling on Guns". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  14. ^ John Schwartz (June 16, 2009). "Gun Rulings Open Way to Supreme Court Review". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  15. ^ PRNewswire-USNewswire (Jan 6, 2009). "The Association of American Law Schools 2009 Annual Meeting to Feature Three Presidential". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2012-11-14. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  16. ^ JEFFREY ROSEN (April 17, 2005). "The Unregulated Offensive". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  17. ^ a b Adam Liptak (October 20, 2008). "Ruling on Guns Elicits Rebuke From the Right". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  18. ^ a b Linda Greenhouse (September 10, 2007). "New Focus on the Effects of Life Tenure". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  19. ^ Sanford Levinson (9 February 2009). "Supreme court prognosis – Ruth Bader Ginsburg's surgery for pancreatic cancer highlights why US supreme court justices shouldn't serve life terms". Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  20. ^ Sanford Levinson – University of Texas at Austin School of Law (2009-10-10). "The Embarrassing Second Amendment". Reprinted from the Yale Law Journal, Volume 99, pp. 637–659. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  21. ^ a b c RICHARD BERNSTEIN (January 28, 1990). "IDEAS & TRENDS; The Right to Bear Arms: A Working Definition". New York Times: Week in Review. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  22. ^ Richard Lacayo (Jun 24, 2001). "Beyond the Brady Bill". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  23. ^ JOSEPH LELYVELD (June 12, 2005). "Interrogating Ourselves". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  24. ^ Sanford Levinson (August 4, 2000). "2 Texans, Not 1". New York Times: Opinion. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  25. ^ a b ROBERT D. KAPLAN (January 23, 2005). "'The Interrogators' and 'Torture': Hard Questions". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  26. ^ a b c d ANAND GIRIDHARADAS (September 25, 2009). "Edging Out Congress and the Public". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  27. ^ Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications (September 17, 2008). "Constitution Day Essay 2008: Professor Sanford Levinson examines the dictatorial power of the Presidency". University of Texas School of Law – News and Events. Archived from the original on 11 December 2012. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  28. ^ Sanford Levinson (September 14, 2008). "The Decider Can Become a Dictator". The News Journal. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  29. ^ KATHARINE Q. SEELYE and JANET ELDER (December 21, 2003). "Strong Support Is Found for Ban on Gay Marriage". New York Times. Archived from the original on June 9, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  30. ^ a b Sanford Levinson (LA Times article available on website) (October 16, 2006). "Our Broken Constitution". University of Texas School of Law – News & Events. Archived from the original on October 5, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  31. ^ MICHAEL KINSLEY (November 5, 2006). "Essay: Election Day". New York Times: Sunday Book Review. Retrieved 2009-10-10.