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. His most recent book, Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History, was awarded the 2013 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 for 2012. 

FULL BIOGRAPHY

Contact Information



Faculty Assistant


Alieta Lynch

Education & Curriculum Vitae


Ph.D., Yale, 2000

J.D., Yale, 1999

B.A., Yale, 1994

Courses Taught


  • American Legal History
  • Torts
  • 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. His most recent book Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History was awarded the 2013 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 for 2012. 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. He is also co-editing a scholarly edition of a lost nineteenth-century manuscript on martial law, tentatively titled To Save the Country: A Lost Manuscript of the Civil War Constitution, which is forthcoming with Yale University Press.

Previous writing includes Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2007), and the prizewinning book, 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 York Times, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. In 2010 he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for his project on the laws of war in American history. Professor Witt is a graduate of Yale Law School and Yale College and he holds a Ph.D. in history from Yale. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served as law clerk to Judge Pierre N. Leval on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Professor Witt’s casebook, Torts: Cases, Principles, and Institutions (2nd ed. 2016), is available for free on a Creative Commons license at https://www.cali.org/user/671896.

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


Historians Question Trump’s Comments on Confederate Monuments

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 named next head of Davenport College

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


New Plan at Yale to Address the Past

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. 

Monday, October 17, 2016


The New Rockefellers

Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Witt ’99 authored a review of the book “Philanthropy in Democratic Societies.”

Friday, May 20, 2016


Duty, Justice and Discipline

Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law John Fabian Witt wrote a review of Chris Bray’s book Court-Martial.

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


Obama, the Least Lame President?—A Commentary by Ian Ayres ’86 and John Fabian Witt ’99

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. 

Friday, November 7, 2014


2014 Doctoral Scholarship Conference: Law and Responsibility on November 14–15

Yale Law School will host its 4th Doctoral Scholarship Conference on November 14 and 15, 2014.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Professors George Priest, John Witt ’99 Elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

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 Witt Awarded ABA Silver Gavel Award for Lincoln’s Code

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 to Discuss New Books on Civil War, Emancipation

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 awarded Bancroft Prize for Lincoln’s Code

Professor John Fabian Witt '99 is the recipient of the 2013 Bancroft Prize from Columbia University for his recent book.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


New Releases by Professors Amar and Witt Named to Best Books of 2012 Lists

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, June 28, 2012


Reaction: Supreme Court Rules on Health Care Law

Yale Law School faculty members and lecturers comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on the health care law.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


John Fabian Witt ’99 to Discuss Puzzling History of the Laws of War in Duffy Inaugural Lecture

John Fabian Witt ’99 will present his inaugural lecture as the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law on February 28, 2011.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Professors James Whitman ’88 and John Witt ’99 Win Guggenheim Fellowships

YLS professors James Q. Whitman ’88 and John Fabian Witt ’99 have been awarded Guggenheim fellowships.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Chairs Conferred on YLS Professors Doug Kysar and John Fabian Witt ’99

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.

BOOKS

To Save the Country: A Lost Treatise on Martial Law (Yale University Press, forthcoming 2019) (with Will Smiley)

The American Fund: A Story of Money and Politics in America (Simon & Schuster, forthcoming)

Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History (The 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)

EDITED BOOKS

To Save the Country: The Lost Martial Law Manuscript of Francis Lieber (Yale University Press, forthcoming 2017) (with Will Smiley)

CASEBOOKS

Torts: Cases, Principles, and Institutions (2nd ed. 2016) (download free copies on Creative Commons license here)

ARTICLES

“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,” Daedalus (forthcoming 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,” 56 DePaul Law Review 261 (2007)

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)

BOOK CHAPTERS

“To Save the Country,” in Gary Gerstle and Joel Isaac eds., States of Exception in American History (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2019)

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: An Essay from the Archives in Honor of William E. Nelson," in volume in honor of William E. Nelson (Bernstein & Hulsebosch eds., forthcoming)

"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).

POPULAR PRESS

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

Bureaucratic Legalism, American Style: Private Bureaucratic Legalism and The Governance of Tort System,” 56 DePaul Law Review 261 (2006)

Internationalism and the Dilemmas of Strategic Patriotism,” 41 Tulsa Law Review 787 (2006)

“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)

BRIEFS

Boumediene v. Bush, 128 S. Ct. 2229 (2008), Brief of Legal Historians as Amici Curiae

Ramroop v. Flex-Craft Printing, Inc., __ N.E.2d __ (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