Legal Philosopher Rachel Bayefsky, Who Explores Dignity in Legal Process, To Join Faculty

Former Rhodes Scholar Also Brings Appellate Litigation Experience
Rachel Bayefsky

A former Climenko Fellow and Rhodes Scholar, Rachel Bayefsky is interested in dignity in the court system. Photo by Bill Petros

May 27, 2021

Rachel Bayefsky, an appellate litigator and legal philosopher who studies how dignity is valued in the legal process, will join the University of Virginia School of Law faculty as an associate professor in the fall.

“I’m thrilled to be joining UVA Law’s warm intellectual community of faculty members and students,” Bayefsky said. “It’s exciting that so many professors are interested in questions of legal philosophy and the role of courts and remedies — issues I find fascinating.”

Currently an attorney with Akin Gump in Washington, D.C., she is a member of the firm’s group that handles Supreme Court and appellate cases. She has served as lead counsel in a Federal Circuit appeal from the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, represented Native American tribes, worked on a D.C. Circuit-appointed amicus assignment and briefed bankruptcy-related issues, among other cases.

Prior to working for the firm, the Yale Law School graduate clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“Justice Ginsburg was very hands-on, thinking carefully about every word in her opinions,” recalled Bayefsky. “Her commitment and determination while facing significant health challenges were inspiring.”

Following Ginsburg’s death, the attorney paid tribute to the justice on SCOTUSblog.

Bayefsky taught at Harvard Law School as a Climenko Fellow before clerking. The fellowship is a development program for promising academics. (She was in the program with another new UVA Law faculty member, Thomas Frampton.) The Toronto native is also a former Rhodes Scholar, earning her M.Sc. and D.Phil. from the University of Oxford.

As a scholar, Bayefsky is interested in how courts address such concepts as dignity and intangible harms. She has published “Constitutional Injury and Tangibility” in the William & Mary Law Review, “Psychological Harm and Constitutional Standing” in the Brooklyn Law Review and “Dignity as a Value in Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis” in the Yale Law Journal (a paper that won the Israel H. Peres Prize for best note).

A forthcoming paper in the Georgetown Law Journal, “Remedies and Respect: Rethinking the Role of Federal Judicial Relief,” looks at which functions federal judicial remedies should serve. In particular, should federal courts issue remedies designed to provide moral vindication — such as the symbolic $1 verdicts examined in a Supreme Court case this past term? A symbolic award “can be a way to express respect for the party whose rights are being violated,” Bayefsky argues.

But if plaintiffs pursuing moral vindication were heard more often, would more people sue? She said the concern about “opening up the floodgates” of litigation is legitimate, but not one that should block the use of judicial power to promote dignity and express respect.

Bayefsky is under contract with Oxford University Press for a book titled “Dignity and Judicial Authority.”

Professor Deborah Hellman, director of the Center for Law & Philosophy at UVA Law, said Bayefsky will add to the breadth of insights generated by legal philosophers on the UVA Law faculty.

“Rachel Bayefsky is an incredibly talented lawyer and scholar who has developed an ambitious research agenda centered around the moral and legal concept of dignity,” Hellman said. “She is especially interested in the role that judges and courts can play in showing respect for dignity and in helping to explicate an often-obscure idea that has begun to play an increasing role in legal discourse both in the United States and around the world. I am so excited to have Rachel as a colleague. I know the students and I will learn so much from her.”

Dean Risa Goluboff also praised Bayefsky’s early career work and forecast a promising future.

“Rachel has rapidly made her mark as a scholar by finding new ways to address important questions that lie at the heart of law’s role in our society,” Goluboff said. “I’m so pleased to welcome her to the faculty.”

Bayefsky shares a distinction with Goluboff. As Supreme Court clerks during different terms, the two performed the role of Ginsburg in annual skits.

Related Scholarship

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.

Media Contact

Eric Williamson
Associate Director of Communications and Senior Writer

News Highlights