Erwin Chemerinsky on September 21, 2016.
Erwin Chemerinsky on September 21, 2016.

Berkeley Law Names Constitutional Scholar as Next Dean

The University of California’s Berkeley School of Law on Wednesday named Constitutional Law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky as its next dean, opening a new chapter after its last permanent dean exited in March 2016 amid sexual harassment allegations.

Photo by Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Photo by Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Since 2009, Chemerinsky has served as the founding dean of U.C. Irvine School of Law, which has earned national recognition for attracting top faculty: A 2015 study that tallied the number of citations to its faculty’s research noted the school placed sixth in the nation, just behind Yale, Harvard and other top-ranked schools.

I’m thrilled,” he said, “and I’m sad too, to be leaving.”

U.C. Irvine has named L. Song Richardson, as its interim dean. Richardson, who joined the faculty in 2014 and whose research focuses on criminal law and social science, has served as Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the law school since 2016.

At Irvine, Chemerinsky also served as the founding chair of the Civil Justice Research Institute, which studies factors that limit access to courts. He has written 10 books, including a leading text on the Constitution, and has appeared often before the U.S. Supreme Court.

His wife Catherine Fisk, a law professor at Irvine whose research focuses on the workplace, may join him at Berkeley, although Chemerinsky said those details have not yet been worked out.  

In a recent example of his practice, he is on the team of lawyers at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that is suing President Donald Trump for alleged violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits elected politicians from accepting gifts from foreign dignitaries.

At Berkeley, Chemerinsky replaces interim dean Melissa Murray, who held her position since March 2016. At that time, former dean Sujit Choudhry stepped down after a former executive assistant accused him in a lawsuit of sexual harassment including planting kisses on her cheeks, and repeatedly rubbing her shoulders and arms.

In September 2016, Choudry, who claimed that his conduct was neither predatory nor sexually motivated, sued the U.C. Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s U.C. campuses. His suit accused the Regents of making him “a pariah” in the way it handled the allegations against him, violating his fourteenth amendment rights to due process, equal protection and against racial discrimination.

This April, as part of a settlement of his former assistant’s suit and other his claims, Choudry agreed to give $50,000 to a charity of her choice and to pay another $50,000 to her lawyers.

In moving to Berkeley, Chemerinsky’s new colleagues will include John Yoo, a professor who is known for authoring a 2002 memo while deputy assistant U.S. attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department that laid out a legal justification for waterboarding of terrorism suspects.

In 2014,during an interview on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, Chemerinsky called for Yoo to be prosecuted for violating the Federal Torture Act for his role authoring the memo.

The host Jon Wiener, said John Yoo, if convicted could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison for such violations.

Chemerinsky replied, “I think he should be. All who planned, all who implemented, all who carried out the torture should be criminally prosecuted. How else do we as a society express our outrage? How else do we deter it in the future — except by criminal prosecutions?”

Yoo was not immediately available for comment, but Chemerinsky expressed interest in putting those comments aside.

I have very high regard for John Yoo as a scholar and as a teacher and I know that he’s a terrific colleague,” he said. “I look forward to being his colleague.”

He said raising money, and continuing to attract top faculty and students are his priorities at Berkeley.

“I think it’s very important to bring the community together,” Chemerinsky added. In a message to alumni, he provided his email and phone number and encouraged anyone to reach out to him to talk about the school.

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