Professor Payvand Ahdout of the University of Virginia School of Law has won The Yale Law Journal’s inaugural Emerging Scholar of the Year Award.

The award, announced Monday, recognizes the achievements of early-career academics who have made significant contributions to legal thought and scholarship, according to the journal. It seeks to promote scholarship that has the potential to drive improvements in the law and to spotlight the exceptional work of its honorees. The winner was selected by the journal’s editors.

“Professor Ahdout’s scholarship uncovers judicial practices and procedures that have important implications for our understanding of federal courts as critical fora for the vindication of constitutional rights,” the journal said in a statement.

Ahdout joined the faculty in 2021. Her research centers on modern uses of judicial power through the lens of federal courts. Her current projects study the phenomena of litigating federal powers disputes as well as judicial agenda-setting outside of the federal courts.

Ahdout said working as a Bristow Fellow in the Solicitor General’s Office piqued her interest in how parties, especially the executive branch, and small decisions in lower courts shape the law.

Her current project, tentatively titled “Separation-of-Powers Avoidance,” examines the techniques courts employ to avoid being embroiled in a direct separation-of-powers conflict with another branch. She argues that the concept of “avoidance,” most often associated with statutory interpretation, is a way to help lawyers understand what judges and courts do when Congress and the president litigate before them.

“I show how doctrines, like discovery of the president, are interpreted through the lens of avoidance,” Ahdout added. “What this means, I claim, is that judicial decisions refracted through an avoidance lens are distorted and have limited import outside of federal court — like, for example, in bilateral negotiations between Congress and the president.”

Her most recent article, “Enforcement Lawmaking and Judicial Review,” published in the Harvard Law Review, argues that, contrary to conventional thinking, the judiciary is very much engaged in devising techniques to check executive power.

Ahdout graduated with highest distinction from the University of Virginia, where she was a Jefferson Scholar, with a B.A. in economics and government. She holds a law degree from Columbia Law School, where she was a James Kent Scholar and a recipient of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Prize.

Before joining the faculty, she served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and to Debra Ann Livingston on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She has also held fellowships at Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law, and litigated in private practice.

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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