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Laurence Tribe

Laurence Tribe
Born Laurence Henry Tribe
(1941-10-10) October 10, 1941 (age 74)
Shanghai, China
Nationality American
Fields Constitutional law
Institutions Harvard Law School
Alma mater Harvard University
Doctoral advisor Template:If empty
Notable students President Barack Obama[1]
Chief Justice John Roberts[2]
Kathleen Sullivan[1]
Spouse Carolyn Ricarda Kreye (1964-present; 2 children)

Laurence Henry Tribe (born October 10, 1941) is a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University. He also works with the firm Massey & Gail LLP on a variety of matters.[3]

Tribe is a liberal scholar of constitutional law.[4] He is the author of American Constitutional Law (1978), a treatise in that field, and has argued before the United States Supreme Court 36 times.[5]

Early life and education

Tribe was born in Shanghai, China, the son of Paulina (née Diatlovitsky) and George Israel Tribe.[6] His parents were Ashkenazi Jews. His father was from Poland and his mother was born in Harbin, to a family of immigrants from Eastern Europe.[7][8] He was raised in the French Quarter of Shanghai.[7]

Tribe attended Abraham Lincoln High School, San Francisco, California. He holds an A.B. in mathematics, summa cum laude from Harvard College (1962), and a J.D., magna cum laude from Harvard Law School (1966), where he was a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Tribe won the intercollegiate National Debate Tournament in 1961 and coached the Harvard debating team to another national championship in 1969.[citation needed]


Tribe served as a law clerk to Mathew Tobriner on the California Supreme Court from 1966–67 and as a law clerk to Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1967–68. He joined the Harvard Law School faculty as an assistant professor in 1968, receiving tenure in 1972. Among his distinguished law students and research assistants while on the faculty at Harvard have been Barack Obama (a research assistant for two years), Chief Justice John Roberts (as a law student in his classes), and Elena Kagan (as a research assistant).[9]

The Supreme Court ruled against Tribe's client in Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986 and held that a Georgia state law criminalizing sodomy, as applied to consensual acts between persons of the same sex, did not violate fundamental liberties under the principle of substantive due process. However, in 2003 the Supreme Court overruled Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas, a case for which Tribe wrote the ACLU's amicus curiae brief supporting Lawrence, who was represented by Lambda Legal.

In 2004, Tribe acknowledged having plagiarized several specific phrases and a sentence in his 1985 book, God Save this Honorable Court, to a 1974 book by Henry Abraham.[10][11] After an investigation, Tribe was reprimanded by Harvard for "a significant lapse in proper academic practice" but concluded that Tribe's error was unintentional.[12]

On May 22, 2013, he was presented with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Columbia University during its Class of 2013 commencement.[13]

Environmental litigation

Tribe has represented industry clients in several notable environmental cases. In 2000, Tribe wrote an amicus brief on behalf of General Electric in Whitman v. American Trucking, in which he argued that the Clean Air Act's National Ambient Air Quality Standards program was unconstitutional under the nondelegation doctrine.[14] The Supreme Court rejected this challenge by a vote of 9-0, with Justice Scalia writing the Court's opinion upholding the program.[15]

Tribe represented General Electric in its defense against its liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act ("Superfund"), in which GE and Tribe unsuccessfully argued that the act unconstitutionally violated General Electric's due process rights.[16]

In 2014, Tribe was retained to represent Peabody Energy, the nation's largest coal producer in a suit against the Environmental Protection Agency. Tribe argued that EPA's use of the Clean Air Act to implement its Clean Power Plan was unconstitutional.[17] Tribe's legal analysis has been criticized by other legal commentators, including fellow Harvard Law School professors Richard J. Lazarus and Jody Freeman (who described his conclusion as "wholly without merit"),[18][19] as well as by Georgetown University Law Center professor Lisa Heinzerling, and current director of the American Law Institute and former dean of New York University School of Law Richard Revesz.

Political involvement

Tribe is noted for his extensive support of liberal legal causes. He is one of the co-founders of the liberal American Constitution Society, the law and policy organization formed to counter the conservative Federalist Society, and is one of a number of scholars at Harvard Law School who have expressed their support for animal rights.[20] Tribe unsuccessfully argued one case for Al Gore during the disputed 2000 U.S. presidential election.

Tribe actively supported the Barack Obama presidential campaign, and described Obama as "the best student I ever had,"[1] a sentiment previously reserved for Kathleen Sullivan.[21]

Alongside Harvard's Cass Sunstein, Tribe served as a judicial adviser to the Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.[22] In February 2010, he was named "Senior Counselor for Access to Justice" in the Department of Justice.[5][23] He resigned eight months later, claiming health reasons.[24]

Response re Windsor v. United States

Tribe described Justice Antonin Scalia's response and dissent to the 5-4 Windsor v. United States decision as "intemperate", "extraordinary", and "at the very least, an exercise in jurisprudential cynicism". He posited that Scalia appeared unable to resist "the temptation to use the occasion to insult the Court's majority, and Justice Kennedy in particular, in essentially ad hominem ...terms", to wit:
"[P]rincipally to highlight the extraordinary character of this particularly vitriolic and internally inconsistent dissent ... about how the Court should have decided the very controversy that he says wasn't really before it ... [For Scalia to] accuse the majority of arrogance and then reach the merits after saying that the Court lacks jurisdiction to address the case requires no small dose of chutzpah ... Scalia didn't so much as consider the possibility ... that considerations of federalism might point to a particularly rigorous examination of the purported justifications for a measure like Section 3. ... In predicting that the opinion joined by the five Justices comprising today's Windsor majority would invariably lead to the invalidation of state efforts to limit lawful marriage to opposite-sex couples, Justice Scalia was engaging in a bait-and-switch unworthy of so serious and smart a jurist, one who often displays a principled side that even those who dislike his results would be hard-pressed not to admire ...[25][26]

Personal life

Tribe married Carolyn Ricarda Kreye in 1964. The couple have two children, Mark and Kerry, both visual artists.[citation needed]


The following a list of the cases Tribe has argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, complete[citation needed] as of the end of 2005:

Case Citation Year Outcome
Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia 448 U.S. 555 1981 win
Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness 452 U.S. 640 1981 loss
Crawford v. Board of Education 458 U.S. 527 1982 loss
Larkin v. Grendel’s Den 459 U.S. 116 1982 win
White v. Massachusetts Council 460 U.S. 204 1983 win
Pacific Gas & Electric v. California 461 U.S. 190 1983 win
Hawaii Housing Auth. v. Midkiff 467 U.S. 229 1984 win
Northeast Bancorp v. Fed. Reserve 472 U.S. 159 1985 win
National Gay Task Force v. Board of Education 470 U.S. 159 1985 draw
Fisher v. City of Berkeley 475 U.S. 260 1986 win
Bowers v. Hardwick 478 U.S. 186 1986 loss
Pennzoil v. Texaco 481 U.S. 1 1986 win
Schweiker v. Chilicky 487 U.S. 412 1988 loss
Granfinanciera v. Nordberg 492 U.S. 33 1989 loss
Sable Communications v. FCC 492 U.S. 115 1989 draw
Adams Fruit v. Barrett 494 U.S. 638 1990 win
Rust v. Sullivan 500 U.S. 173 1991 loss
Cipollone v. Liggett 505 U.S. 504 1992 win
TXO v. Alliance Resources 509 U.S. 443 1993 win
Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg 512 U.S. 415 1994 loss
U.S. v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone 516 U.S. 415 1996 draw
Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party 520 U.S. 351 1997 loss
Vacco v. Quill 521 U.S. 793 1997 loss
Amchem Products v. Windsor 521 U.S. 591 1997 win
Baker v. General Motors 522 U.S. 222 1998 win
AT&T v. Iowa Utilities Board 525 U.S. 366 1999 loss
Ortiz v. Fibreboard 527 U.S. 815 1999 win
Bush v. Gore I 531 U.S. 70 2000 loss
New York Times Co. v. Tasini 533 U.S. 438 2001 loss
U.S. v. United Foods 533 U.S. 405 2001 win
FCC v. NextWave 537 U.S. 293 2002 win
State Farm v. Campbell 538 U.S. 408 2003 loss
Nike v. Kasky 539 U.S. 654 2003 loss
Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association 544 U.S. 550 2005 loss

Tribe has argued 26 cases in the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals:[citation needed]

Case Citation Circuit Year Outcome
Worldwide Church of God v. California 623 F.2d 613 9th Cir. 1980 loss
Grendel's Den v. Goodwin 662 F.2d 102 1st Cir. 1981 win
Pacific Legal Foundation v. State Energy Resources 659 F.2d 903 9th Cir. 1981 win
United States v. Sun Myung Moon 718 F.2d 1210 2d Cir. 1983 loss
Romany v. Colegio de Abogados 742 F.2d 32 1st Cir. 1984 win
Westmoreland v. CBS 752 F.2d 16 2d Cir. 1984 loss
Colombrito v. Kelly 764 F.2d 122 2d Cir. 1985 win
Texaco v. Pennzoil 784 F.2d 1133 2d Cir. 1986 loss
U.S. v. Bank of New England 821 F.2d 844 1st Cir. 1987 loss
U.S. v. Gallo 859 F.2d 1078 2d Cir. 1988 loss
U.S. v. GAF Corporation 884 F.2d 670 2d Cir. 1989 loss
U.S. v. Western Electric Company 900 F.2d 283 D.C. Cir. 1999 win
Fineman v. Armstrong World Industries 980 F.2d 171 D.C. Cir. 1992 draw
U.S. v. Western Electric Company 993 F.2d 1572 D.C. Cir. 1993 win
Lightning Lube v. Witco Corporation 4 F.3d 1153 3d Cir. 1993 draw
Hopkins v. Dow Corning Corporation 33 F.3d 1116 9th Cir. 1994 win
Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone v. U.S. 42 F.3d 181 4th Cir. 1994 win
Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc. 83 F.3d 610 3d Cir. 1996 win
BellSouth Corp. v. F.C.C. 144 F.3d 58 D.C. Cir. 1998 loss
SBC Communications v. F.C.C. 154 F.3d 226 5th Cir. 1998 loss
City of Dallas v. F.C.C. F.3d 341 5th Cir. 1999 draw
U.S. West v. Tristani 182 F.3d 1202 PDF (90.5 KB) 10th Cir. 1999 loss
U.S. West v. F.C.C. 182 F.3d 1224 PDF (220 KB) 10th Cir. 1999 win
Southwest Voter Registration v. Shelley 344 F.3d 914 PDF (23.0 KB) 9th Cir. 2003 loss
Pacific Gas and Elec. v. California 350 F.3d 932 PDF (144 KB) 9th Cir. 2003 loss
General Electric v. E.P.A. 360 F.3d 188 PDF (49.8 KB) D.C. Cir. 2004 win


  • Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution (2014; co-author with Joshua Matz)
  • The Invisible Constitution (2008)
  • American Constitutional Law (treatise; 1978, 1979, 1988, and 2000)
  • On Reading the Constitution (1991; co-author with Michael Dorf)
  • Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes (1990)
  • Constitutional Choices (1985)
  • God Save This Honorable Court: How the Choice of Supreme Court Justices Shapes Our History (1985)
  • The Supreme Court: Trends and Developments (1979, 1980, 1982, 1983)
  • When Values Conflict: Essays on Environmental Analysis, Discourse, and Decision (editor; 1976)
  • The American Presidency: Its Constitutional Structure (1974)
  • Channeling Technology Through Law (1973)
  • Environmental Protection (1971; co-author with Louis Jaffe)
  • Technology: Processes of Assessment and Choice (1969)

See also


  1. ^ a b c Schoenberg, Shira (November 14, 2007). "Law expert: Obama will preserve Constitution". Concord Monitor. 
  2. ^ Bronner, Ethan (June 28, 2012). "A Re-Examination of Roberts’s Legacy?". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "Laurence H. Tribe". Massey & Gail LLP. Retrieved 2012-04-06. 
  4. ^ Gregory, Vanessa (2010-12-06) Indefensible, The American Prospect
  5. ^ a b Johnson, Carrie (February 26, 2010). "Prominent Harvard law professor joins Justice Department". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-04-06. Tribe has served as lead counsel in 35 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, testified before Congress dozens of times and wrote a major treatise on constitutional law. 
  6. ^ Legal scholarship symposium: the scholarship of Laurence Tribe. 2007. Retrieved April 10, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "Laurence Tribe on Background". Big Think. 
  8. ^ Bhayani, Paras D. (October 18, 2006). "A Humble Start on the Path to Stardom". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved April 15, 2012. 
  9. ^ Laurence Tribe discusses John Roberts' Supreme Court on YouTube
  10. ^ Bottum, Joseph (October 4, 2004). "The Big Mahatma". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved May 11, 2010. 
  11. ^ Rimer, Sara (November 24, 2004). "When Plagiarism's Shadow Falls on Admired Scholars". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2010. 
  12. ^ Pope, Justin (April 14, 2005). "Harvard Reprimands Law Professor Over Book". Associated Press.  Archived April 20, 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Columbia Announces 2013 Honorary Degree Recipients". Columbia University. April 8, 2013. 
  14. ^ Text of Whitman v. American Trucking Ass'ns, Inc., amicus curiae is available from:  Findlaw 
  15. ^ Stout, David (February 27, 2001). "Court Rules Cost Should Not Affect Action on Clean Air". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ Mayberry, Jodine (February 26, 2009). "GE Loses Last Issue in Lengthy Court Case on Superfund Liability". Archived from the original on May 28, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  17. ^ Davenport, Coral (March 19, 2015). "McConnell urges states to help thwart Obama's war on coal". The New York Times. 
  18. ^ "Is the President’s Climate Plan Unconstitutional?". Harvard Law Today. March 18, 2015. 
  19. ^ "Larry Tribe and Mitch McConnell’s Flagrant Constitutional Error". POLITICO Magazine. March 25, 2015. 
  20. ^ "'Personhood' Redefined: Animal Rights Strategy Gets at the Essence of Being Human", Association of American Medical Colleges, retrieved April 10, 2011.
  21. ^ Nancy Waring (Summer 1999). "Congratulations Dean Sullivan". Harvard Law Bulletin. Sullivan got her first taste of litigation as a 3L, working with Tribe on a U.S. Supreme Court brief in which the two asserted the right of Hare Krishnas to proselytize at the Minnesota State Fair. Recalling the fledgling attorney, Tribe says, 'Her sense of the most persuasive way to cast the issues and her rhetorical command were remarkable for any lawyer, much less a student. It was clear to me that I was dealing with the most extraordinary student I had ever had.' 
  22. ^ Egelko, Bob (2008-10-20). "Next president will shape Supreme Court". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  23. ^ "Tribe named Senior Counselor for Access to Justice". Harvard Law School. February 26, 2010. Retrieved February 26, 2010. 
  24. ^ "Laurence Tribe to return to Harvard Law School in January". Harvard Law School. November 18, 2010. Retrieved April 15, 2012. 
  25. ^ Tribe, Laurence (June 26, 2013). "DOMA, Prop 8, and Justice Scalia's intemperate dissent". SCOTUSBlog. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 
  26. ^ Developments since the Court's decision, however, appear to confirm Justice Scalia's judgment as largely correct. The Court's ambiguity surrounding the legal standard of review it chose to apply, in an attempt to leave the question of the constitutionality of state laws against same-sex marriage for another day, opened the door for federal judges around the country to strike down existing state marriage laws as unconstitutional (see below citations):


  • Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez, Math on trial. How numbers get used and abused in the courtroom, Basic Books, 2013. ISBN 978-0-465-03292-1. (Second chapter: "Math error number 2: unjustified estimates. The case of Janet Collins: hairstyle probability").

External links

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