John Fabian Witt
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law
John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He is the author of a number of books, including Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History, which was awarded the Bancroft Prize, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was selected for the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award, and was a New York Times Notable Book.FULL BIOGRAPHY
Education & Curriculum Vitae
Ph.D., Yale, 2000
J.D., Yale, 1999
B.A., Yale, 1994
- American Legal History
- History of the Laws of War
- Problems in Legal Historiography
John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He is the author of a number of books, including American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law from Smallpox to COVID-19 and Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History, which was awarded the Bancroft Prize, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was selected for the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, and was a New York Times Notable Book. Professor Witt is currently writing the story of the men and women behind the Garland Fund: the 1920s foundation that quietly financed the efforts that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education.
Other writings include To Save the Country: A Lost Manuscript of the Civil War Constitution (Yale University Press, 2019) (with Will Smiley), Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2007), and The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2004), as well as articles in the American Historical Review, the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, and other scholarly journals. He has written for The New Republic, The New York Times, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He has been a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Professor Witt holds a J.D. and a Ph.D. in history from Yale. He served as a law clerk to Judge Pierre N. Leval on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He taught for a decade at Columbia Law School and has visited at Harvard and the University of Texas at Austin. Professor Witt’s casebooks, Torts and Regulation: Cases, Principles, and Institutions (2d ed., 2020) and Torts: Cases, Principles, and Institutions (5th ed. 2020) (with Karen Tani), are available for free on a Creative Commons license at https://www.cali.org.
Thursday, March 18, 2021
For 100 years, the filibuster has been used to deny Black rights — A Commentary by John Fabian Witt ’99 and Magdalene Zier
John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School. Magdalene Zier is a Knight Hennessy scholar at Stanford University.
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
American Contagions, by Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Fabian Witt, is reviewed in the New York Law Journal.
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Fabian Witt YLS and George W. and Sadella D. Crawford Visiting Lecturer in Law Nancy Gertner ’71 were guests on WBUR to discuss legal issues around COVID-19 mandates.
Friday, November 13, 2020
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Witt ’99’s new book American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law From Smallpox to Covid-19 is reviewed in The Washington Post.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
In his new book, Professor John Fabian Witt ’99 explores the ways in which American law has shaped and responded to the experience of contagion throughout history.
Friday, October 16, 2020
The Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy has convened a weekly interdisciplinary workshop with leading experts from law, policy, economics, health, and governance to address issues related to all aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thursday, October 15, 2020
John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Fabian Witt ’99 reviews two recent books about the Supreme Court in The New Republic.
Thursday, February 13, 2020
At the Seminar in Private Law on February 11, 2020, Nathaniel Donahue, a J.D./Ph.D. candidate at Yale University and John Fabian Witt ’99, Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School, presented their paper, titled “Tort as Private Administration.”
Thursday, October 31, 2019
The achievements, and compromises, of two Reconstruction-era amendments — A Commentary by John Fabian Witt ’99
John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School.
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Fabian Witt ’99 and Jack Goldsmith ’89 were guests on the podcast, where they discussed Professor Witt’s new book To Save the Country: A Lost Treatise on Martial Law.
Monday, August 12, 2019
For a century, a manuscript by Francis Lieber, political theorist and legal adviser to Abraham Lincoln, lay lost in the recesses of the National Archives — until it was discovered by Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Fabian Witt ’99 and Will Smiley ’14.
Tuesday, May 28, 2019
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Fabian Witt ’99 reviews the book The Impeachers by Brenda Wineapple.
Monday, May 20, 2019
Charles F. Southmayd Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy Scott Shapiro was interviewed about President Trump’s plan to pardon accused American war criminals. Gerard C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law Oona Hathaway ’97 and Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Fabian Witt ’99 are mentioned.
Friday, February 15, 2019
Lafayette S. Foster Professor of Law Kate Stith is quoted and Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Fabian Witt ’99 is cited in an article about border wall funds and the Constitution.
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Trump’s Farcical National Emergency Plan Should Fail—but It Might Not—A Commentary by John Fabian Witt ’99
John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School.
Friday, July 27, 2018
Democrats need a Plan B for the Supreme Court. Here’s one option.—A Commentary by Ian Ayres ’86 and John Fabian Witt ’99
Ian Ayres ’86 is the William K. Townsend Professor and John Fabian Witt ’99 is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
After Charlottesville, Baltimore and other cities mull over what to do with removed Confederate statues
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Witt ’99 and Ilya Somin ’01 are quoted in an article on the removal and preservation of statues honoring confederate soldiers.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Witt ’99 is quoted in an article about the removal of statues honoring confederate generals.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
John Fabian Witt, the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law and professor of history, has been named Davenport’s next head of college.
Friday, December 2, 2016
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Witt ’99 is quoted in an article about the recently announced procedure for considering the renaming of university buildings at Yale.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Senate Republicans and the Supreme Court: Where Is This Headed Exactly?—A Commentary by Emily Bazelon ’00 and John Fabian Witt ’99
Emily Bazelon ’00 is a Senior Research Scholar in Law, Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law, and Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School and John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Ian Ayres ’86 is the William K. Townsend Professor of Law at Yale Law School and John Fabian Witt ’99 is the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies, has elected Yale Law School Professors George L. Priest and John Fabian Witt ’99 to its 2014 Class of Members.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Professor John Fabian Witt has been awarded the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for his book, Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Professors John Fabian Witt ‘99 and James Oakes will discuss their new works about the Civil War and emancipation on Monday, April 8, 2013.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Professor John Fabian Witt '99 is the recipient of the 2013 Bancroft Prize from Columbia University for his recent book.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Professor John Witt’s book, Lincoln’s Code, and Professor Akhil Amar’s book, America’s Unwritten Constitution, have been named notable books of 2012 by two top newspapers.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Professor Witt’s Lincoln’s Code Released as Country Celebrates 150th Anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation
In his new book, Lincoln’s Code, Professor John Fabian Witt ’99 charts the alternately troubled and triumphant course of the development of the laws of war in America, from the Founding to the cataclysm of the Civil War and on to the dawn of the modern era.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
John Fabian Witt ’99 will present his inaugural lecture as the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law on February 28, 2011.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Douglas Kysar has been named the Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law at Yale Law School, and John Fabian Witt ’99 has been named the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law.
The American Fund: A Story of Money and Politics in America (Simon & Schuster, forthcoming)
American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law from Smallpox to COVID-19 (Yale University Press, 2020)
To Save the Country: A Lost Treatise on Martial Law (Yale University Press, 2019) (with Will Smiley)
Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History (Simon & Schuster / Free Press, 2012)
- Bancroft Prize
- ABA Silver Gavel Award
- Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History
- Littleton-Griswold Prize from the American Historical Association
- John Phillip Reid Prize from the American Society for Legal History
- J. Willard Hurst Award for the Best Work in Sociolegal Legal History
- New York Times Notable Book for 2012
- New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
- Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction of 2012
Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2007)
The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2004)
- William Nelson Cromwell Prize from the American Society for Legal History
- J. Willard Hurst Book Prize from the Law and Society Association
- Thomas J. Wilson Prize at Harvard University Press
- Firestone Library Noteworthy Book in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics
- Chinese edition, Lei Tian, trans., Shanghai Joint Publishing Co., 2008)
To Save the Country: The Lost Martial Law Manuscript of Francis Lieber (Yale University Press, forthcoming 2017) (with Will Smiley)
Torts and Regulations: Cases, Principles and Institutions (CALI, 2nd ed. 2020) (1st ed., 2019)
Torts: Cases, Principles, and Institutions (CALI, 5th ed. 2020) (with Karen Tani) (1st ed. 2014) (download free copies on Creative Commons license here)
“Movement Capture or Movement Strategy? A Critical Race History Exchange on the Beginnings of Brown v. Board,” 31 Yale J. Law & Hum. 520 (March 2021) (with Megan Ming Francis)
“The Partisan Transformation of American Public Health Law, 1918 to 2020,” 111 Am. J. Public Health 411 (March 2021)
“Radical Histories / Liberal Histories in Work Injury Law,” 60 Am. J. Legal Hist. 564 (Dec. 2020)
“The Fourteenth Amendment as an Ending,” 10 Journal of the Civil War Era 5 (2020) (with Lisset Pino)
“Inventing the War Crime: An Internal Theory,” 60 Virginia Journal of International Law 52 (2020) (with Jessica Laird)
“Contract’s Revenge: the Waiver Society and the Death of Tort,” 41 Cardozo Law Review 1265 (2020) (with Ryan Martins & Shannon Price)
“Tort as Private Administration,” 105 Cornell Law Review 1093 (2020) (with Nathaniel Donahue)
“The Czar and the Slaves: Two Puzzles in the History of International Arbitration,” 113 American Journal of International Law 535 (2019) (with Bennet Ostdiek)
“A Lost Theory of American Emergency Constitutionalism,” 36 Law & History Review 551 (2018)
“For Bob Gordon,” 70 Stanford Law Review 1681 (2018).
“Adjudication in the Age of Disagreement,” 86 Fordham Law Review 149 (2017)
“Strategy and Entailments: The Enduring Role of Law in U.S. Armed Forces,” 146 Daedalus 11 (2017) (with Laura Savarese)
“Ives and MacPherson: Judicial Process in the Regulatory State,” 9 Journal of Tort Law 43 (2016)
“Constraint, Authority, and the Rule of Law in a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals,” 85 Fordham Law Review 3 (2016)
"Modernism and Antimodernism in the Federal Courts: Reflections on the Federal District Court for the District of Connecticut on the 100th Anniversary of Its New Haven Courthouse," 48 Conn. L. Rev. 219 (2015)
“Civil War Historians and the Laws of War,” 4 Journal of the Civil War Era 159 (2014)
"The Dismal History of the Laws of War," 1 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 895 (2012)
"War and Law in America," 115 American Historial Review 768 (2010)
“Form and Substance in the Law of Counterinsurgency Damages,” 41 Loyola Law Review 1455 (2008)
“The Metaphysics of Mind and the Practical Science of the Law,” 26 Law & History Review 161 (2008) (with Sarah A. Seo)
“Contingency, Immanence, and Inevitability in the History of Accident Law,” 1 Journal of Tort Law (no. 2, 2007)
“Empire and the Crisis of the Legal Frame (Will the Real British Empire Please Stand Up?),” 120 Harvard Law Review 754 (2007)
*Winner of The Green Bag’s “Exemplary legal writing” prize, 2007*
“Bureaucratic Legalism, American Style: Private Bureaucratic Legalism and The Governance of Tort System,” 56 DePaul Law Review 261 (2007)
“Internationalism and the Dilemmas of Strategic Patriotism,” 41 Tulsa Law Review 787 (2006)
“The Long History of State Constitutions and American Tort Law,” 36 Rutgers Law Journal 1159 (2005)
“The Internationalist Beginnings of American Civil Liberties,” 54 Duke Law Journal 697 (2004)
“The Inevitability of Aggregated Settlement: An Institutional Account of American Tort Law,” 57 Vanderbilt Law Review 1571 (2004) (with Samuel Issacharoff)
“Narrating Bankruptcy / Narrating Risk,” 98 Northwestern University Law Review 303 (2003)
“Speedy Fred Taylor and the Ironies of Enterprise Liability,” 103 Columbia Law Review 1 (2003)
“Toward a New History of American Accident Law: Classical Tort Law and the Cooperative First-Party Insurance Movement,” 114 Harvard Law Review 690 (2001)
“From Loss of Services to Loss of Support: The Wrongful Death Statutes, the Origins of Modern Tort Law, and the Making of the Nineteenth-Century Family,” 25 Law & Social Inquiry 717 (2000)
“Rethinking the Nineteenth-Century Employment Contract, Again,” 18 Law & History Review 627 (2000)
“Making the Fifth: The Constitutionalization of American Self-Incrimination Doctrine, 1791- 1903,” 77 Texas Law Review 825 (1999)
“The Transformation of Work and the Law of Workplace Accidents, 1842-1910,” 107 Yale Law Journal 1467 (1998)
“Two Humanitarianisms in Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,’” in LaCroix, Masur, Nussbaum & Weinrib eds., Cannons and Codes: Law, Literature, and America’s Wars (Oxford University Press 2021)
“The Law of Salus Populi,” in Meghan O’Rourke ed., A World Out of Reach: Dispatches from Life under Lockdown (Yale University Press, Nov. 2020)
“To Save the Country: Reason and Necessity in Constitutional Emergencies,” in Gary Gerstle & Joel Isaac, eds., States of Exception in American History (University of Chicago Press, October 2020)
Foreword to Robert W. Gordon, Taming the Past: Essays on Law in History and History in Law (Cambridge University Press, 2017) (with Sarah Barringer Gordon)
“Law, Rights, and the Constitution in the American Civil War,” in Ted Widmer, ed., Disunion: A History of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2016)
“Freedom and Restraint,” in Ted Widmer, ed., Disunion: A History of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2016)
“On Adopting a Posture of Moral Neutrality,” in Bradley Jay Strawser, ed., Opposing Perspectives on the Drone Debate (Palgrave, 2014)
“Two Conceptions of Suffering in War,” in Austin Sarat, ed., Knowing the Suffering of Others (University of Alabama, 2014)
"The Secret History of the Chief Justice's Obamacare Decision," in Persily, Metzger, & Morrison eds., The Health Care Case (Oxford University Press, 2013)
“The Political Economy of Pain,” in Bernstein & Hulsebosch eds., Making Legal History: Essays in Honor of William E. Nelson (NYU Press, 2013)
"The Social Histories of International Law," in William Dodge, Michael Ramsay & David Sloss, eds., The U.S. Supreme Court and International Law: Continuity or Change? (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
“For 100 Years, the Filibuster Has Been Used to Deny Black Rights,” Washington Post, March 18, 2021 (with Magdalene Zier)
“How U.S. Pandemic Restrictions Became a Constitutional Battlefield,” Foreign Affairs, Dec. 31, 2020 (with Kiki Manzur)
“The Wondrous Banality of Democracy,” in The Yale Review, November 2020
“C-Span After Words with Lawrence Gostin,” Oct 26, 2020
“Republican Judges are Quietly Upending Public Health Laws,” New York Times, October 15, 2020
“Why We Don’t Need COVID-19 Immunity Legislation,” Balkinization, Sep. 26, 2020
“The Law of Salus Populi,” Yale Review, March 30, 2020
“Supremely Divided: How the Republican Party Took Over the Supreme Court,” The New Republic, April 7, 2020
"The Achievements and Compromises of Two Reconstruction-Era Amendments," Washington Post, October 31, 2019
“The Shrinking Legacy of a Supreme Court Justice: Why Veneration of Oliver Wendell Holmes is in Decline,” The New Republic, Oct. 2019
“Slouching Back to Calhoun,” Yale Daily News, Sept. 2, 2019
“A Debate over Politics, Principles, and Impeachment–in 1868,” Wash. Post, May 24, 2019
“Elite Colleges Don’t Understand the Business They’re In,” The Atlantic, March 15, 2019
“Trump’s Farcical National Emergency Plan Should Fail – but it Might Not,” Slate, January 8, 2019
“National Emergencies, Then and Now,” Balkinization, January 7, 2019
“The Operative: How John Marshall Built the Supreme Court around His Political Agenda,” The New Republic, January 7, 2019
“Democrats Need a Plan B for the Supreme Court,” Washington Post, July 27, 2018 (with Ian Ayres)
“Bomber Harris and the Haspel Nomination,” Balkinization Blog, May 9, 2018
“A Hidden Legacy,” Yale Daily News, April 5, 2017
“Fighting Words,” The New Rambler, March 6, 2017
“Symbols and Speech,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 19 2016 (with Jonathan Holloway)
“The New Rockefellers,” Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2016
“The Provocative Life of Judge Richard Posner,” New York Times, October 7, 2016
“Senate Republicans and the Supreme Court: Where Is This Headed Exactly?” New York Times, February 24, 2016
“The Biden Speech Fallacy,” Balkinization Blog, February 24, 2016
“Booze and Big Government,” Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2015
“Stephen Breyer’s ‘The Court and the World,’” New York Times, September 14, 2015
“It Happened Here,” Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2015
"How Much Does it Say to Cost to Say 'I'm Sorry,?'" NPR's Radiolab, December 23, 2014
“Obama, the Least Lame President?,” New York Times, December 21, 2014
"Debunking A Progressive Constitutional Myth; or, How Corporations Became People, Too," Balkinization Blog, November 15, 2012
"Freedom and Restraint," New York Times, September 21, 2012
"The Secret History of the Chief Justice's Obamacare Decision," Balkinization Blog, June 29, 2012
"The Legal Fog Between War and Peace," New York Times, June 10, 2012
"All Things Considered on Corporate Personhood," National Public Radio, October 24, 2011 http://www.npr.org/2011/10/24/141663195/what-is-the-basis-for-corporate-personhood
"Lincoln's Laws of War," Slate, February 11, 2009
"History Lesson Ye Olde Gitmo," Slate, December 9, 2008
“A Declaration the President Ignores,” Washington Post, July 4, 2007
“First, Rename All the Lawyers,” New York Times, October 24, 2006
“Tactical Withdrawal: The Easy Way Out for the Supreme Court on ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’” Slate, December 5, 2005 (with Ariela R. Dubler)
“Can Chinese Industry Be Made Safe?,” The Korea Herald, May 8, 2004; The Pakistan Daily Times, May 8, 2004; The Jakarta Post, May 8, 2004; Taipei Times, May 10, 2004; The Singapore Straits Times, May 7, 2004; The Bangkok Post (May 8, 2004)
ENTRIES, SHORT REVIEWS, ETC.
Review of Stacy Pratt McDermott, The Jury in Lincoln’s America (Ohio University Press, 2012), in Journal of American History (2014) 100 (4): 1201-1202
Review of Jamie Bronstein, Caught in the Machinery: Workplace Accidents and Injured Workers in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Stanford 2008), in British Journal of Sociology (June 2011)
Review of Kal Raustiala, Does the Constitution Follow the Flag? (Princeton, 2009), 28 Law & History Review 569 (2010)
Review of Kenneth S. Abraham, The Liability Century: Torts and Insurance from the Progressive Era to 9/11, in Law & History Review (Fall 2009)
Review of Sally H. Clarke, Trust and Power: Consumers, the Modern Corporation, and the Making of the United States Automobile Market, in Law & History Review (Fall 2009)
“Tort Law,” in The Encyclopedia of Legal History (Oxford University Press, 2009)
“Elias Hill,” in African American National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2008)
Review of Laura Kalman, Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations (University of North Carolina Press, 2005), in New England Quarterly, September, 2006, pp. 347-49
“Workers’ Compensation,” in Eric Arnesen et al. eds., Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working- Class History (Routledge, 2007) (with Jean-Denis Grèze)
Review of George I. Lovell, Legislative Deferrals: Statutory Ambiguity, Judicial Power, and American Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2003), in 45 Labor History 390-92 (2004)
“Lessons from History: State Constitutions, American Tort Law, and the Medical Malpractice Crisis,” Pew Charitable Trusts Project on Medical Liability in Pennsylvania (March 2004)
“The Federal Employers’ Liability Act,” in Major Acts in Congress (Macmillan Publishers 2003)
“Thinking Historically about American Accident Law,” Columbia Law Report, Fall 2002
“The Klan on Trial,” 106 Yale Law Journal 1611 (1997)
Brief of Legal Historians as Amici Curiae in Support of Respondent, Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam, 2020 WL 416674 (U.S.), January 22, 2020
Brief of Torts Scholars as Amici Curiae in Support of Respondents in Comcast Corp. v. National Ass'n of African-American Owned Media and Entertainment Studio Networks, 2019 WL 4748379 (U.S.), September 27, 2019
Gill v. Whitford, 137 S.Ct. 2268 (2017), Brief of Historians as Amici Curiae
Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC, 2016 WL20625507, Brief of Law Professors as Amici Curiae.
Boumediene v. Bush, 128 S. Ct. 2229 (2008), Brief of Legal Historians as Amici Curiae
Ramroop v. Flex-Craft Printing, Inc., 896 N.E.2d 69 (N.Y. 2008), Brief of New York Labor and Employment Law Professors as Amici Curiae
FAIR v. Rumsfeld, 547 U.S. 47 (2006), Brief Amici Curiae of 56 Columbia Law School Faculty Members