Cahn Named to 2 New Professorships

Kennedy, Buc Professorships Support Rule of Law, Democratic Ideals
Naomi Cahn

Naomi Cahn is an influential scholar in the field of family law, as well as trusts and estates, feminist jurisprudence and constitutional law. Photo courtesy of Naomi Cahn

August 6, 2020

Professor Naomi Cahn, who joined the University of Virginia School of Law faculty this fall, has been named to two new professorships promoting the rule of law and democratic ideals.

Cahn will serve as the first Nancy L. Buc ’69 Research Professor of Democracy and Equity as well as the inaugural Justice Anthony M. Kennedy Distinguished Professor of Law.

“Naomi’s highly regarded scholarship on gender, sexual orientation and related constitutional law has made significant contributions to understanding and promoting equity and core democratic ideals,” Dean Risa Goluboff said. “She is the kind of scholar we imagined should hold these professorships.”

The Kennedy professorship, funded through the generosity of law alumni Martha Lubin Karsh ’81 and Bruce Karsh ’80, is affiliated with the Karsh Center for Law and Democracy and was announced at a talk the Karsh Center hosted with the justice in 2018.

In announcing the gift, Bruce Karsh said the recipient should be a scholar of constitutional law and “possess a love of teaching and [model] integrity, civility, and fidelity to freedom and the rule of law.”

“We’re confident this professorship will reinforce and enhance the values and mission of the Karsh Center now and perpetuate them far into the future,” he added.

Bruce Karsh — co-founder, co-chairman and chief investment officer of Oaktree Capital Management, a global investment management company — served as a clerk under Kennedy after law school when Kennedy served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Martha Karsh is a leader in the nonprofit world and co-manages the Karsh Family Foundation giving, and serves on the national board of the KIPP Foundation, the nation’s largest network of high-performing public charter schools. The couple, who are serving as honorary co-chairs of the Law School’s current capital campaign, are also co-owners of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

The Buc professorship, an appointment that rotates every three years, was created not only to examine the underlying causes that fueled the violent white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville and at the University during Aug. 11-12, 2017, but also to look at equity more broadly.

“I believe that law and the rule of law are central, essential underpinnings of our society, and that both are currently threatened,” Buc explained when the gift was announced. “This professorship is my way of fighting back.”

Buc’s legal career focused on health care policy and government service, including stints as chief counsel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and at the Federal Trade Commission. She was the managing partner of the Washington, D.C. office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges before founding her own firm, Buc & Beardsley, which specialized in food and drug law. Now retired, Buc is a lifetime member of the Law School Dean’s Council and serves as an honorary trustee of the Law School Foundation Board of Trustees. She previously served on the board and on the Campaign Executive Committee for the school’s first capital campaign (1993-2000).

Buc’s interest in promoting equity in conjunction with democracy lines up with Cahn’s wide-ranging scholarship, which includes feminist jurisprudence.

Cahn has written important works on equity in family and property law (trusts and estates), reproductive technology and other topics. Her co-authored book “Red Families vs. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and The Creation of Culture” explores how the partisan political divide is reflected in differing patterns in family life and sexual values. She is currently working on her latest co-authored book, tentatively titled “Shafted: The Fate of Women in a Winner-Take-All World,” to be published by Simon and Schuster.

Her work engages with constitutional meaning, as shown in her scholarship discussing Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court case that constitutionalized same-sex marriage. In her article “Jane the Virgin and Other Stories of Unintentional Parenthood,” she both charts the role that early assisted reproduction cases played in securing legal recognition of same-sex relationships and explores the impact that Obergefell may have on legal definitions of family for unmarried LGBTQ couples. Another article, “Against Marriage Equality,” examines the ways in which Obergefell may shape the fight for greater recognition of nonmarital parental rights. The article explores how marital and non-marital relationships differ in ways that have constitutional salience.

Cahn’s formative experiences included teaching a clinic at the Georgetown University Law Center that focused on employment discrimination and domestic violence cases; working for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, representing parents accused of abuse or neglect; and working on educational desegregation cases as an associate for a Washington, D.C., law firm.

“I am honored to become the inaugural Justice Anthony M. Kennedy Distinguished Professor of Law and holder of the Nancy Buc ’69 Research Professor of Democracy and Equity Research Professorship,” Cahn said. “My goal is to do justice to the vision of each professorship in both my teaching and scholarship by continuing to work on the relationship between equity, democracy and the rule — and role — of law.”

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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