David Law, Courts and Constitutions Expert, To Join Faculty

Former Fulbright Scholar, Professor Has Also Been a UN Consultant
David Law

David S. Law is currently Sir Y.K. Pao Chair in Public Law at the University of Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of University of Hong Kong

April 7, 2021

David S. Law, a scholar of public law who has authored high-profile work on courts and constitutions, will join the University of Virginia School of Law in the fall.

Dean Risa Goluboff heralded Law as “a world expert on comparative constitutional law and the law of East Asia.” She added, “We’re excited to add his globe-spanning experience to the Virginia faculty.”

Law is currently teaching at the University of Hong Kong, and previously served on the faculty of the University of California at Irvine. His scholarly interests include public law, comparative law, law and social science, judicial politics, and constitutional and political theory.

He started his first position as a full professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis in 2008. Initially, he had planned to only take leave for a year or two to study in Asia.

“Turns out that there is a lot you can do in Asia,” he said of his ongoing research, which includes ground-level work in numerous countries.

Law is known for using quantitative research whenever possible, but he’s not afraid to use qualitative methods through field research when raw data is harder to come by.

“You have to pick the right tool for the job,” he said.

That was the case with his 2009 Texas Law Review article “The Anatomy of a Conservative Court: Judicial Review in Japan,” which looks at why the Japanese Supreme Court hardly ever strikes down laws. (The answer, in short: The government consistently chooses conservative chief justices close to retirement age who wield considerable power over the judiciary.)

“I really love to do fieldwork,” he said. “It’s a real thrill to play detective. Also, I have been fortunate that judges in Asia have been very generous with their time.”

As an outsider, he was able to ask questions of the Japanese justices that would have been viewed as “wildly impertinent” from a native, he said.

Law’s first book, “The Japanese Supreme Court and Judicial Review,” was published in Japanese by Gendaijinbunsha. His works have also been translated into Chinese, Spanish and Romanian.

In addition to his solo authorship, Law has found success in collaboration. Over time, his co-authorship with UVA Law professor Mila Versteeg, a comparative constitutional scholar, has resulted in five papers, including “The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution.” The article demonstrates that the Constitution isn’t a model for other nations in the same way that it had been in the past.

Law and Versteeg originally planned a trilogy of articles. Sketched out on restaurant napkins while Versteeg was a student at Oxford University, all of their papers on constitutionalism became reality.

Law has also 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.

“David Law brings an incredible expertise in comparative constitutional law,” Versteeg said, adding that his knowledge of Asian law and politics will bring valuable insights.

Prior to entering academia, he practiced law with Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles, and clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

He earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School, where he served as executive editor of the Harvard Law Review. He earned a Ph.D. in political science at Stanford University (where he also earned his master’s in political science and bachelor’s in public policy) while concurrently attending the University of Oxford as a Clarendon Scholar and obtaining a graduate degree in European and Comparative Law. 

He is a former Fulbright scholar and has held fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the Council on Foreign Relations. He has also served on the National Science Foundation’s Committee of Visitors. 

Law currently holds the title of Sir Y.K. Pao Chair in Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, where he teaches an international mix of undergraduate and graduate students. He said he looks forward to interacting with both J.D. and graduate students.

“I’ve heard nothing but superlatives about the student body at UVA,” Law said. “UVA has an affirmative commitment to educating students, from all around the world, for all the right reasons.”

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