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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Professor Heather Gerken to Present J. Skelly Wright Inaugural Lecture March 8


Professor Heather Gerken will present her inaugural lecture as the first J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law on Monday, March 8, at 4:30 p.m. in Room 127. Her lecture is titled “Federalism All the Way Down?” It is free and open to the public. A reception will follow in the Alumni Reading Room.

“I am going to be talking about the value of minority-dominated institutions below the state level and linking that idea with the First Amendment, the 14th Amendment, and the separation of powers,” said Professor Gerken.

Professor Gerken is one of the country’s leading experts on voting rights and election law, the role of groups in the democratic process, and the relationship between diversity and democracy. She is perhaps best known for her idea of a “Democracy Index,” which she proposed in Legal Times in 2007. The index calls for states to be ranked based on how well they run their election systems, focusing on such issues as how long voters spend in line, how many ballots are discarded, how often voting machines break down, and other considerations. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton introduced election reform bills that were inspired by this idea. Professor Gerken elaborated her idea of a democracy index in her recent book The Democracy Index: Why Our Election System is Failing and How to Fix It. In other writings, Professor Gerken explores the trans-substantive concept of “second-order diversity” in American public law. Her articles have appeared in numerous law journals.

Professor Gerken has been a frequent commentator on election law and voting rights, appearing on CNN News, “Larry King Live,” and other programs.

Prior to coming to Yale, Professor Gerken taught at Harvard University, where she was the first junior professor in the history of Harvard Law School to receive the Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence, an award given annually to an outstanding instructor. She began her career at Harvard in 2000 and was promoted to a full professorship in 2005.

Professor Gerken earned her B.A. from Princeton University and her J.D. at the University of Michigan Law School. She served as a law clerk for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and for Justice David H. Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court, before joining Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C.

The J. Skelly Wright Professorship of Law was established in 2008 by a bequest of Helen Patton Wright and gifts from former law clerks and friends, to honor the life and career of her husband James Skelly Wright ’61 Hon. LL.D., an eminent and courageous judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The professorship grew out of a teaching fellowship established in 1989 to honor the judge by inspiring students with the ideal of public service.