David S. Law

  • E. James Kelly, Jr., Class of 1965 Research Professor of Law
  • Professor of Politics (by courtesy)
  • Affiliated Faculty, UVA East Asia Center

David Law is an internationally recognized expert in the comparative study of public law and courts, a pioneer in the application of empirical social science methods to the study of legal texts, and one of the most cited law and social science scholars in the country. His scholarship combines qualitative fieldwork on foreign judicial and constitutional systems, quantitative analysis of constitutions and treaties, and regional expertise on Asia.

Law’s work has been featured in a variety of media around the world, including the New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Globe and Mail (Canada), the Asahi Shimbun (Japan) and the Chosun Ilbo (Korea), and has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Romanian and Persian. He is the author of “The Japanese Supreme Court and Judicial Review,” published in Japanese by Gendaijinbunsha, the co-author (with Mila Versteeg) of “Constituciones Aparentes,” published in Spanish by Universidad Externado de Colombia, and the editor of “Constitutionalism in Context,” forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. Other projects include “The Oxford Handbook of Constitutional Law in Asia” (for Oxford University Press), “Research Methods in Constitutional Law: A Handbook” (for Edward Elgar Publishing) and a new book series titled “Judicial Systems of the World” for Oxford University Press. 

Before joining the Virginia faculty, Law held the Sir Y.K. Pao Chair in Public Law at the University of Hong Kong and served on the faculties of the University of California, Irvine and Washington University in St. Louis, where he was the Charles Nagel Chair of Constitutional Law and Political Science. He has also taught at the University of California, San Diego (in the political science department); the University of San Diego; Keio University (as a Hitachi Fellow); National Taiwan University (as a Fulbright Scholar); Seoul National University; Universidad Externado de Colombia; Georgetown University Law Center; and Princeton University (as the Martin and Kathleen Crane Fellow in Law and Public Affairs). He has served as a U.N. consultant on legal and political reform in Yemen and provided training sponsored by the U.S. State Department to Burmese lawmakers on constitutional reform.

Law earned his B.A. in public policy and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University, his J.D. from Harvard Law School, and his B.C.L. in European and Comparative Law from the University of Oxford. He clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and practiced law at Munger Tolles and Olson in Los Angeles before entering academia. Born and raised in western Canada, he is a native Mandarin speaker.


  • Ph.D.
    Stanford University
  • B.C.L. in European and Comparative Law
    University of Oxford, Magdalen College
  • M.A.
    Stanford University
  • J.D.
    Harvard Law School
  • B.A.
    Stanford University


Post-Liberal Constitutionalism and the Right to Effective Government, in Constitutionalism and a Right to Effective Government, Cambridge University Press (2022).
Isolation Versus Globalization: The Dawn of Legal Education in Bhutan, in The Globalization of Legal Education, Oxford University Press (2022).
Conceptualizing the Field of Comparative Constitutional Law, in Constitutionalism in Context, Cambridge University Press (2022).
The Oxford Handbook of Constitutional Law in Asia (edited with Holning Lau & Alex Schwartz), in Holning Lau & Alex Schwartz, eds., , Oxford University Press (2022).
Research Methods in Constitutional Law: A Handbook  (edited with Malcolm Langford), in Malcolm Langford, ed., , Edward Elgar Publishing (2021).
The Computational Turn in Legal Research, in Research Methods in Constitutional Law: A Handbook , Edward Elgar (2021).


Constituciones aparentes (with Mila Versteeg & Maria Jose, Viana), Universidad Externado de Colombia (2018).
Nihon no saikosai wo kaibou suru (The Japanese Supreme Court and Judicial Review) (with Shin-ichi, translator Nishikawa), Gendaijinbunsha (2013).


Constitutionalism in Context, Cambridge University Press (2022).

Book Chapters

Islamic Constitutionalism: Iran (with Mirjam Künkler), in Constitutionalism in Context, Cambridge University Press, 449–473 (2022).
Judicial Review of Constitutional Amendments: Taiwan (with Hsiang-Yang Hsieh), in Constitutionalism in Context, Cambridge University Press, 185–215 (2022).
Pedagogy and Conceptualization of the Field, in Constitutionalism in Context, Cambridge University Press, 3–32 (2022).
Transnational Judicial Communication: The European Union (with Elaine Mak), in Constitutionalism in Context, Cambridge University Press, 236–260 (2022).
Constitutional Adjudication in Comparative Perspective (with Aharon Barak & Yeong-Chin Su), in Constitutional Interpretation: Theory and Practice, Vol. 10, Academia Sinica (2020).
Constitutional Amendments Versus Constitutional Replacements: An Empirical Perspective (with Ryan Whalen), in Routledge Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Change, Routledge, 74–100 (2020).
Constitutional Dialects: The Language of Transnational Legal Orders, in Constitution-Making and Transnational Legal Order, Cambridge University Press, 110–155 (2019).
Imposed Constitutions and Romantic Constitutions, in The Law and Legitimacy of Imposed Constitutions, Routledge, 34–57 (2019).
Constitutional Dissonance in China (with Wen-Chen Chang), in Comparative Constitutional Theory, Edward Elgar Publishing, 476–513 (2018).
Constitutional Drafting in Latin America: A Quantitative Perspective (with Tom Ginsburg), in Constitutionalism in the Americas, Edward Elgar Publishing, 217 (2018).
Constitutional Inertia and Regime Pluralism in Asia (with Chien-Chih Lin), in Constitutional Democracy in Crisis?, Oxford University Press, 423 (2018).
Constitutional Drafting in Latin America: A Quantitative Perspective (with Tom Ginsburg), in El Constitucionalismo en el Continente Americano, Siglo del Hombre Editores, 307–338 (2016).
Proportionality Review of Administrative Action in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China (with Cheng-Yi Huang), in Handbook on Comparative Law and Regulation, Edward Elgar Publishing, 305 (2016).
Comparative Constitutional Law in Action: Japan Versus Korea, in The Global Implications of Korean Law, Korean Legislation Research Institute (2014).
Constitutional Variation Among Strains of Authoritarianism (with Mila Versteeg), in Constitutions in Authoritarian Regimes, Cambridge University Press, 165–196 (2014).
The Anatomy of a Conservative Court: Judicial Review in Japan, in Public Law in East Asia, Ashgate (2013).
The Myth of the Imposed Constitution, in Social and Political Foundations of Constitutions, Cambridge University Press, 239–268 (2013).
Judicial Independence, in International Encyclopedia of Political Science, Sage Publications, 1369 (2011).
Constitutions, in The Oxford Handbook of Empirical Legal Research, Oxford University Press, 376–398 (2010).
Foreword, in The Supreme Court and Benign Elite Democracy in Japan, Ashgate, xi-xii (2010).

Articles & Reviews

Alternatives to Liberal Constitutional Democracy, 51 Revista Derecho y Sociedad 223 (2018).
The Global Language of Human Rights: A Computational Linguistic Analysis, 12 Law & Ethics of Human Rights 111–150 (2018).
Alternatives to Liberal Constitutional Democracy, 76 Maryland Law Review 223–243 (2017).
Constitutional Archetypes, 95 Texas Law Review 153–244 (2016).
Judicial Comparativism and Judicial Diplomacy, 163 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 927–1036 (2015).
Sham Constitutions (with Mila Versteeg), 101 California Law Review 863–947 (2013).
The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution (with Mila Versteeg), 87 NYU Law Review 762–858 (2012).
Why Has Judicial Review Failed in Japan? (with (translator) Shin-ichi Nishikawa), 81 Seikei-Ronso (2012).
How to Rig the Federal Courts, 99 Georgetown Law Journal 779–836 (2011).
Introduction: Decision Making on the Japanese Supreme Court, 88 Washington University Law Review 1365–1374 (2011).
Judicial Independence, Revista Forumul Judecătorilor (2011).
The Evolution and Ideology of Global Constitutionalism (with Mila Versteeg), 99 California Law Review 1163–1257 (2011).
The Limits of Global Judicial Dialogue (with Wen-Chen Chang), 86 Washington Law Review 523–578 (2011).
Why Has Judicial Review Failed in Japan?, 88 Washington University Law Review 1425–1466 (2011).
Law Versus Ideology: The Supreme Court and the Use of Legislative History (with David Zaring), 51 William and Mary Law Review 1653–1748 (2010).
The Anatomy of a Conservative Court: Judicial Review in Japan (with (translator) Shin-ichi Nishikawa), 79 Seikei-Ronso (2010).
A Theory of Judicial Power and Judicial Review, 97 Georgetown Law Journal 723–802 (2009).
The Anatomy of a Conservative Court: Judicial Review in Japan, 87 Texas Law Review 1545–1594 (2009).
What Is Judicial Ideology, and How Should We Measure It? (with Joshua Fischman), 29 Washington University Journal of Law and Policy 133–214 (2009).
Globalization and the Future of Constitutional Rights, 102 Northwestern University Law Review 1277–1350 (2008).
There Is Nothing Pragmatic About Originalism (with David McGowan), 102 Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy 86–101 (2007).
Introduction: Positive Political Theory and the Law, 15 Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 1–8 (2006).
Judicial Selection, Appointments Gridlock, and the Nuclear Option (with Lawrence B. Solum), 15 Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 51–104 (2006).
Generic Constitutional Law, 89 Minnesota Law Review 652–742 (2005).
Strategic Judicial Lawmaking: Ideology, Publication, and Asylum Law in the Ninth Circuit, 73 University of Cincinnati Law Review 817–866 (2005).
Why Nuclear Disarmament May Be Easier to Achieve Than an End to Partisan Conflict Over Judicial Appointments (with Sanford Levinson), 39 University of Richmond Law Review 923–948 (2005).
Executive Revision of Judicial Decisions, 109 Harvard Law Review 2020–2037 (1996).
And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor (reviewing C. Edwin Baker, Advertising and a Democratic Press) 108 Harvard Law Review 489–494 (1994).

Current Courses

All Courses

Administrative Law
Comparative Constitutional Law
Comparative Judicial Politics
Constitutional Law
Federal Courts

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