Professor Gerken Discusses Progressive Federalism at ACS Event


Professor Heather Gerken spoke about why “federalism is for everyone” at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy's National Convention in Washington, D.C., on June 9, 2017.

Gerken was part of a plenary panel titled "Progressive Federalism: A New Way Forward?" which examined how progressives are looking at federalism in a new light.

Professor Gerken, who assumes the Deanship of Yale Law School on July 1, 2017, is one of the country’s leading experts on constitutional law and election law. She has long been an advocate of the idea that federalism belongs to progressives and conservatives, having written about “progressive federalism” extensively over the course of her career.

Speaking before the crowd, Gerken explained how "we are in a different era, this is not your father's federalism,” she said.

Professor Gerken outlined how federalism can be a very useful tool because it enables political minorities to implement important policy and legislative changes at the local and state level.    

Gerken also discussed her work supervising the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project, a student clinic which helped win a nationwide injunction for sanctuary cities following President Trump's executive order restricting funding to those cities. She said this was a good example of progressive federalism in action.

Gerken further discussed the important role that lawyers play in our society and how this era of intense partisanship is not constructive or healthy for our democracy.

"That's a real danger," said Gerken about the deep partisan distrust in American politics. "It’s a real danger for election law and a real danger for federalism because if you think that the other side is a monster, you are never going to give them the leeway that you need to do things in their own way.”

Gerken continued, “Even if you want to go to war with someone, you don't have to turn them into an enemy and I think that is a deep value of our profession.”

Explaining how legal training encourages law students to analyze the opposition’s arguments and find flaws within their own stance, Gerken said politicians could stand to learn from the example set by lawyers.  

 “That is something that lawyers have to offer to politicians today,” said Gerken. “And that to my mind is what makes us an honorable profession...[W]e should imagine that in politics as well.”