Heather Gerken Selected as Next Dean of Yale Law School


Professor Heather Gerken, the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law, has been selected as the next Dean of Yale Law School. Yale University President Peter Salovey made the announcement on February 21, 2017.

Professor 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. Gerken will assume the deanship on July 1, 2017, serving as the 17th Dean of Yale Law School. She will be the first woman to serve in this role.

In his announcement to the community, President Salovey called Professor Gerken an "acclaimed educator" who will be an exemplary new dean for the Law School. 

Hailed as an “intellectual guru” in the New York Times, Professor Gerken’s scholarship has been featured in The Atlantic, the Boston Globe, NPR, the New York Times, and Time. She has done substantial work on election reform, which has affected policy at a national level. 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.

Gerken brings a rich practice experience to the deanship, having worked as an appellate lawyer in Washington, D.C., and served as a senior adviser to the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012. At Yale, she created and runs the country’s most innovative clinic in local government law, the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP). Gerken will continue to run the SFALP clinic during her deanship, becoming one of the rare deans at a top law school to run a clinical program while serving in this capacity.

Professor Gerken is also a renowned teacher who has won awards at both Yale and Harvard. She was named one of the nation’s “twenty-six best law teachers” in a book published by the Harvard University Press.

“Yale Law School is a remarkable institution, one that has trained the finest lawyers in the country for generations. It embodies the best in practice and in theory, a rare combination,” said Gerken. “The Yale Law School community has always drawn strength from its diversity and its deep commitment to the values of the profession. I am thrilled to take on this role and hope to build on that legacy as we train a generation of lawyers and academics to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Gerken will succeed Robert C. Post ’77, the Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law, who became Dean in 2009. Under his leadership, Dean Post spearheaded the Baker Hall initiative to bring back dormitory living to the Law School. The construction for the project is slated to begin this summer. During his tenure, Post also attracted younger faculty representing a range of academic disciplines to the Law School, expanded clinical and experiential learning, and launched a first of its kind Ph.D. in Law program.

“Yale Law School is very lucky to be able to draw on the energy, brilliance, and leadership of Heather Gerken,” said Post.  “This is a time of change in the nation and in legal education, and Heather is perfectly situated to take the helm of this extraordinary place. She has the entire confidence of the School.”

“We will always be grateful for Dean Post, who stepped into the leadership role when the school most needed him,” said Gerken. “He has been an intellectual leader for Yale as it hired its next generation of faculty, and he has done a great deal to strengthen the Law School.”

Professor Gerken clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit and Justice David Souter of the United States Supreme Court. She then practiced law for several years before joining the Harvard Law School faculty in 2000. Gerken came to Yale in 2006 and became the inaugural J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law in 2008. A native of Massachusetts, 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. Gerken currently serves as a trustee for Princeton University.

Professor 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. She was featured in the National Law Journal for balancing teaching and research, won a Green Bag award for legal writing, and has testified before the Senate three times.

The search committee for the new dean was chaired by Paul W. Kahn ’80. Committee members were Stephen Carter ’79, Amy Chua, Jonathan Macey ’82, Claire Priest ’00, James Silk ’89, and Kate Stith.