Heather Gerken

Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law

J.D., University of Michigan Law School, 1994

A.B., Princeton University, 1991

Courses Taught
  • Advanced Topics in Election Law
  • San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project
Heather Gerken

Heather K. Gerken is the Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law and is in her second term as Dean of Yale Law School. Dean Gerken is one of the country’s leading experts on constitutional law and election law. A founder of the “nationalist school” of federalism, her work focuses on federalism, diversity, and dissent. She is the first female Dean in the School’s 200-year history.

As Dean, she has strengthened the School’s tradition of academic excellence, fortified support for the student body, and launched innovative new programming. Under Dean Gerken’s leadership, Yale Law School has expanded access to the legal profession, creating two pipeline-to-law school programs and bolstering the School’s enduring commitment to need-based aid. In 2022, Yale Law School launched the first full-tuition scholarships for law students with the highest need, beginning a growing trend in legal education. Through an innovative leadership program, Dean Gerken has worked to broaden the curriculum with wide-ranging courses and created abundant opportunities for professional development and mentorship. As part of the leadership program, Dean Gerken established a special initiative designed to foster discourse across the political and ideological spectrum and reinforce the core values of lawyering. 

Hailed as an “intellectual guru” in The New York Times, Dean Gerken’s scholarship has been featured in The Atlantic, the Boston Globe, NPR, The New York Times, and Time. In 2017, Politico Magazine named Dean Gerken one of The Politico 50, a list of idea makers in American politics. Her work on election reform has affected policy at a national level. 

In addition to her leadership of the Law School, Dean Gerken founded and runs the country’s most innovative clinic in local government law, the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP). A champion for bridging the theory/practice divide, she is one of the few Deans in the country to run a clinic. Dean Gerken is also a renowned teacher who has won awards at both Yale and Harvard. She was named one of the nation’s “26 best law teachers” in a book published by Harvard University Press. 

A native of Massachusetts, Dean Gerken graduated from Princeton University, where she received her A.B. degree summa cum laude in 1991. A Darrow Scholar, she graduated from the University of Michigan Law School summa cum laude in 1994. Dean Gerken currently serves as a trustee of Princeton University. 

After law school, Dean Gerken clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice David Souter of the United States Supreme Court. She then served as an appellate lawyer in Washington, D.C., before joining the Harvard Law School faculty in 2000. Dean Gerken came to Yale in 2006 and became the inaugural J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law in 2008. She became Dean of Yale Law School on July 1, 2017. 

Dean Gerken has published extensively. Her work has been featured in the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the Stanford Law Review, and numerous popular publications. Her work has been the subject of four symposia, and she has served as a commentator for a number of major media outlets, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and NBC News. Prior to her time as Dean, Gerken served as a senior advisor to the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012. In 2013, her proposal for creating a “Democracy Index” — a national ranking of election systems — was adopted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which created the nation’s first Election Performance Index. She has been featured in the National Law Journal for balancing teaching and research, won a Green Bag award for legal writing, and has testified before the U.S. Senate three times. Dean Gerken is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a trustee of the Mellon Foundation.




The Democracy Index: Why Our Election System is Failing and How to Fix It (Princeton University Press 2009)

Editor, Race, Reform, and Regulation of the Electoral Process: Recurring Puzzles in American Democracy (with Guy-Uriel Charles and Michael Kang) (2010)



The Myth of the Laboratories of Democracy,” Tyler, Charles and Gerken, Heather, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-46, August 9, 2021

The Discursive Benefits of Structure: Federalism and the First Amendment,” in The Free Speech Century (eds. Bollinger & Stone 2019)

Resisting the Theory/Practice Divide: Why the ‘Theory School’ is Ambitious About Practice,” 132 Harv. L. Rev. F. 134 (2019)

Presentation on Behalf of the Social Sciences, 52 Am. Acad. Arts & Sciences 8 (Winter 2018)

Second-Order Diversity:  Decentralization’s Egalitarian Possibilities (Danielle Allen, ed. 2017)

The Jorde Lecture:  A Research Agenda for Federalism in the 21st Century ( 2017)

Federalism: A User’s Guide, 45 Hofstra L. Rev. 1087 (2017)

Playing Cards in a Hurricane:  Party Reform in an Age of Polarization, 54 Hous. L. Rev. 911 ( 2017)

Progressive Federalism: A User’s Guide, 44 Democracy Journal (Spring 2017)

The Taft Lecture:  Living Under Someone Else’s Law, 84 U. Cincinnati L. Rev. 377 (2016)

Beyond Sovereignty, Beyond Autonomy:  A Nationalist’s View of Federalism’s Future, National Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution Project (2016)

Article I, Section 8Federalism and the Overall Scope of Federal Power, National Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution Project (with Randy Barnett) (2016)

“The Citizens United Trilogy: The Myth, the True Tale, and the Story Yet to Come,” in Election Law Stories 359 (2016) (with Erica Newland)

The Right to Vote:  A Conversation with the Co-Chairs of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, 159 Proceedings Am. Phil. Soc. 17 (March 2015)

The Real Problem with Citizens United:  Campaign Finance, Dark Money, and Shadow Parties, 159 Proceedings Am. Phil. Soc. 5 (March 2015)

The Childress Lecture, Federalism and Nationalism:  Time for a Détente?, 59 St. Louis. L. Rev. 997 (2015)

An Academic Elegy, 100 Iowa L. Rev. 109 (2015)

The Craft of Interpreting the Declaration of Independence, Crooked Timber (June 15, 2015)

The Party’s Over:  Shadow Parties, Campaign Finance, and the Legacy of McCutcheon, 2014 Sup. Ct. Rev. 175 (with Joseph Fishkin)

The Interlocking Gears of Rights and Structure:  Why the Critics Are Wrong about U.S. v. Windsor, 95  B.U. L. Rev. 487 (2015) (Boston University’s Annual Distinguished Lecture)

Living Under Someone Else’s Law, Democracy Journal 24 (Spring 2015) (with James Dawson)

Slipping the Bonds of Federalism, 128 Harv. L. Rev. 85 (2014)

The Political Safeguards of Horizontal Federalism, 113 Mich. L. Rev. 57 (2014) (with Ari Holtzblatt)

The Right to Vote:  Is the Amendment Game Worth the Candle?, 23 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 11 (2014)

How to Teach the Socratic Method with a Heart, 21 The Law Teacher 24 (Fall 2014)

Polarization at the Local Level, Marquette Lawyer 13 (Fall 2014)

The Two Trends That Matter for Party Politics, 89 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 32 (2014) (with Joseph Fishkin)

The Real Problem with Citizens United: Campaign Finance, Dark Money, and Shadow Parties, 97 Marquette L. Rev. 904 (2014).

Federalism as the New Nationalism:  An Overview, 123 Yale L.J. 1889 (2014)

The Loyal Opposition, 123 Yale L.J. 1958 (2014)

A Public Finance Model for Lobbying: Lobbying, Campaign Finance, and the Privatization of Democracy, 13 Elec. L. J. 75 (2014) (with Alex Tausanovitch)

The Federalis(m) Society, 36 Harv. J. L. & Pub. Pol’y 943 (2013)

Abandoning Bad Ideas and Disregarding Good Ones for the Right Reasons: Reflections on a Festschrift, 48 Tulsa L. Rev. 535 (2013)

Exit, Voice, and Disloyalty, 62 Duke L.J. 1349 (2013)

Make It Easy:  The Case for Automatic Registration, 28 Dem. J. 17 (2013)

Déjà vu All Over Again:  Courts, Corporate Law, and Election Law, 126 Harv. L. Rev. 86 (2013) (with Michael Kang)

Federalism(s), 53 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1549 (2012)

A New Progressive Federalism, 24 Dem. J. 37 (Spring 2012)

Comment, The Constitution, the Practice of Democracy, and Unintended Consequences, Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Winter 2012, at 26.

Keynote Address: Lobbying as the New Campaign Finance, 27 Georgia St. L. Rev. 1155 (2011)

The Foreword: Federalism All the Way Down, 124 Harv. L. Rev. 4 (2010)

Judge Stories: Clerking for Judge Reinhardt, 120 Yale L.J.529 (2010)

“The Institutional Turn in Election Law Scholarship” (with Michael Kang), in Race, Reform, and Regulation of the Electoral Process: Recurring Puzzles in American Democracy (Gerken, Charles, and Kang eds.) (2010)

Keynote Address, What Election Law Has to Say to Constitutional Law, 44 Ind. L. Rev. 7 (2010)

Getting From Here to There in Redistricting Reform, 5 Duke J. Const. L. & Pol’y 1 (2010)

Creating Better Heuristics in the Presidential Nominating Process: Why a Citizens Assembly Beats Out Iowa and New Hampshire, 125 Pol. Sci. Q. 233 (2010) (with Doug Rand)

Clerking for Justice Souter, 35 J. Sup. Ct. Hist. 4 (2010)

Mexico’s Election Reforms: A Comparative View, 2 Mexican L. Rev. 163 (July-December 2009)

In Praise of Rankings, John L. Gedid Lecture Series, 19 Widener L. Rev. 1 (2009)

Dean’s Lecture, The Invisible Election: Making Policy in World Without Data, 35 Ohio Northern L. Rev. 1013 (2009)

Making Democracy Work, Book Review (The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy, and Institutional Design, by Andrew Rehfeld; Saving Democracy: A Plan for Real Representation in America, by Kevin O’Leary), 37 Pol. Theory 838 (2009).

Uncooperative Federalism, 118 Yale L.J. 1256 (2009) (with Jessica Bulman-Pozen)

“Provisional Ballots: The Miner’s Canary for Election Administration,” in Provisional Ballots: An Imperfect Solution (Report of the Pew Center on the States, 2009).

Getting from Here to There in Election Reform, 34 Okla. City. Univ. L. Rev. 33 (2009)

Shortcuts to Reform, 93 Minn. L. Rev. 1582 (2009)

Replacing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act: An Opt-In Approach, White Paper, The Tobin Project

The (Winding) Road Ahead, “Data for Democracy: Improving Elections Through Metrics and Measurement,” 43 (Pew Center on the States 2008)

Larry and Lawrence, 42 Tulsa L. Rev. 843 (2007)

Justice Kennedy and the Domains of Equal Protection, 121 Harv. L. Rev. 104 (2007)

Rashomon and the Roberts Court, 68 Ohio St. L. J.1213 (2007)

The Hydraulics of Constitutional Reform: A Skeptical Response to Our Undemocratic Constitution, 55 Drake L. Rev. 925 (2007)

The Double-Edged Sword of Independence: Inoculating Electoral Reform Commissions Against Everyday Politics, 6 ELEC. L. J. 184 (April 2007)

Of Sovereigns and Servants, 115 YALE L. J. 2634 (2006)

A Third Way: Section 5 and the Opt-In Approach, in THE FUTURE OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT 277 (Epstein et al. 2006)

A Third Way for the Voting Rights Act: Section 5 and the Opt-In Approach, 106 COLUM. L. REV. 708 (2006)

Dissent, Diversity, and the Global Polity, in THE LEAST EXAMINED BRANCH: THE ROLE OF LEGISLATURES IN THE CONSTITUTIONAL STATE 547 (eds. Bauman & Kahana 2006)

Dissenting by Deciding, 57 STAN. L. REV.1745 (2005)

Second-Order Diversity, 118 HARV. L. REV. 1099 (2005)

Lost in the Political Thicket: The Supreme Court, Election Law, and The Doctrinal Interregnum153 U. PENN. L. REV. 503 (2004)

The Costs and Causes of Minimalism in Voting Cases: Baker v. Carr and Its Progeny, 80 N.C. L. REV. 1411 (2002)

Election Law Exceptionalism? A Bird’s Eye View of the Symposium, 82 B.U. L. REV. 737 (2002)

Understanding the Right to an Undiluted Vote, 114 HARV. L. REV. 1663 (2001)

Morgan Kousser’s Noble Dream, 99 MICH. L. REV. 1298 (2001)

New Wine in Old Bottles: A Comment on Richard Hasen’s and Richard Briffault’s Essays on Bush v. Gore, 29 FLA. ST. UNIV. L. REV. 407 (2001)

Note, Understanding Mixed-Motives Claims Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 91 MICH. L. Rev. 1824 (1993)



Semi-regular contributor to Balkinization, Election Law Blog, Room for Debate, and Politico.

Campus Free Speech is Not Up for Debate,” Time Magazine (July 13, 2017)

Federalism is Dead, Long Live Federalism,” The Atlantic (June 28, 2017)

We’re About to See States’ Rights Used Defensively Against Trump,” Vox (Dec. 12, 2016)

Wisconsin Court Case May Be Last Hope to Fix Gerrymandering Before 2020,” Vox (Dec. 1, 2016)

Uncooperative Federalism,” The Nation (Nov. 29, 2016)

On Voting Rights, Amendments Are Too Hard to Achieve and Enforce,” New York Times Online (November 4, 2014)

The ‘Bad News Bears’ of Elections, The Hill (June 4, 2014)

The Real Problem with Citizens United,” Marquette Lawyer (Summer 2014)

Rerouting the flow of ‘dark money’ into political campaigns,” Washington Post (April 3, 2014) (with Wade Gibson and Webb Lyons)

The Fox and the Hedgehog:  How Do We Achieve Political Accountability Given What Voters (Don’t) Know?, Cato Unbound (October 14, 2013)

Goodbye to the Crown Jewel of the Civil Rights Movement,Slate (June, 2013)

Real State Power Means Getting in the Obama Care Game,” Harvard Business Review Online, (April 2, 2013) (with Ted Ruger)

No Middle Ground,” New York Times Online (June 27, 2011)

Coloring Inside the Lines,” Slate (November 10, 2010)

The Real Problem With Citizens United,” American Prospect Online (January 22, 2010)

A Silver Lining,” New York Times Online (January 21, 2010)

Will History Repeat Itself?,” Huffington Post (October 29, 2009)

A False Depiction of Judging,” New York Times Online (July 15, 2009)

Four Lawyers Review Sotomayor’s Performance," Wall Street Journal (July 17, 2009).

An Uncertain Fate for the Voting Rights Act,” American Prospect Online (June 23, 2009)

Race, Voting Rights, and the Genius of Justice Souter," American Prospect Online (May 5, 2009)

A Common Law Judge,” New York Times Online (May 4, 2009)

“Our Elections Run Well, Don’t They?,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 30, 2009

We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes,” The American Prospect, March 27, 2009

The Case for Keeping Score, “Revitalizing Democracy: Special Report,” The American Prospect (January/February 2009)

The Invisible Election, Election Law Blog, November 16, 2008

Shadow districting commissions, Balkinization (series of posts dated May 5, 6, 31 & June 4, 2008)

Out of the Shadows: Private redistricting can help overcome lawmakers’ partisanship, LEGAL TIMES (Vol. XXXI, No. 18, May 5, 2008)

Fixing Democracy, Brennan Center for Democracy Blog (May, 2008)

Justice Kennedy’s Emerging Vision of Race, Balkinization (series of posts dated September 25-27, 2007)

A New Agenda for Election Law Scholarship, Balkinization (series of posts dated June 18-22, 2007)

New Style of Election Reform Begins to Emerge, ROLL CALL (Tues. March 27, 2007).

How Does Your State Rank on the Democracy Index? LEGAL TIMES (Vol. XXX, No. 1, January 1, 2007)

Six Ways to Reform Democracy, Seeds of Change Forum, BOSTON REVIEW (November/December 2006)

Let’s Shift Gears in Voting-Rights Enforcement, ROLL CALL (Dec. 12, 2005)

Next Time, Start with the People, Balkinization, Nov. 10, 2004 (with Chris Elmendorf)

Citizens Must Drive Electoral Reform, ROLL CALL (Nov. 15, 2005)

For Shame: How to Embarrass States into Election Reform, TNR-Online (Sept. 28, 2005)

Race (Optional), The New Republic (Sept. 15, 2005).

Lost in the Political Thicket, LEGAL AFFAIRS (November/December 2004) 22.

Bigger Issues, New Democracy Forum, 26 BOSTON REVIEW 18 (2001)



Work featured in the Politico’s Top 50 Ideas 2017 Issue, The Boston Globe’s Ideas Section, The Atlantic “Ideas of the Year” 2013 Issue, The New York Times, NPR, and Time Magazine.