Owen Fiss Awarded Prize in Jurisprudence

Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law Owen Fiss received the 2020 Henry M. Phillips Prize in Jurisprudence by the American Philosophical Society on November 13, 2020. He was awarded the prize at the Society’s Autumn General Meeting.

Established in 1888, the Henry M. Phillips Prize in Jurisprudence is awarded in recognition of outstanding lifetime contributions to the field of jurisprudence and important publications which illustrate that accomplishment. In the 125 years since its inception, the Society has bestowed the prize only 26 times.

Owen M. Fiss

In his acceptance remarks, Fiss reflected on his work. “There are many facets to my professional life. At the core, however, is the sustained effort to understand and defend the legitimacy of the Brown decision and the Second Reconstruction. In honoring me you are honoring this scholarly project and also acknowledging its transcendent significance for the Nation,” he said. “I must also acknowledge, however, that the task is unfinished. We have failed to realize the truest and most profound ambitions of the Second Reconstruction — to free this country of the racial caste system and all its vestiges, to form a more perfect union.”

The American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States, was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge.” In the 21st century the Society sustains its mission through honoring and engaging groundbreaking scientists, seminal thinkers in the humanities and social sciences, and leaders in civic and cultural affairs. It supports research and discovery through grants and fellowships, lectures, publications, prizes, exhibitions, and public education. The Society also serves scholars through a research library of manuscripts and other collections.

“In recognizing my scholarship and my teaching you are defining the challenge that now awaits the next generation of lawyers,” Fiss said.

At the event, scholars wrote a tribute to Fiss, which was read aloud when the award was presented to him. It read as follows:

"In the course of his long, productive, and influential career, Owen Fiss has been a deep student of civil procedure, teaching the American legal system about judicial remedies addressing systemic wrongs as well as the essentials of public law adjudication. He led the way in proposing revolutionary new understandings of the theory and application of antidiscrimination law, advocating that it become an instrument for the removal of structural conditions of inequality. He has been a profound student of the war on terror, illuminating how it might be brought to heel by the values of the rule of law. He has been a force for legal reform throughout Latin America. He has proposed an influential reinterpretation of the First Amendment that emphasizes the social functions of speech in a democracy. He has authored important reinterpretations of American constitutional history."

At the Law School, Fiss has taught procedure, legal theory, and constitutional law. He is the author of many articles and books, including The Civil Rights InjunctionTroubled Beginnings of the Modern StateThe Structure of Procedure (with Robert Cover), Liberalism DividedThe Irony of Free Speech, A Community of Equals, A Way Out: America’s Ghettos and the Legacy of RacismAdjudication and its Alternatives (with Judith Resnik), The Law as it Could Be, The Dictates of Justice: Essays on Law and Human Rights, and A War Like No Other: The Constitution in a Time of Terror.  His most recent book is Pillars of Justice: Lawyers and the Liberal Tradition. In a 2012 study, four of his articles were named as among the top 100 most-cited law review articles of all time.