Robert Tsai

Robert L. Tsai

Professor of Law

Law Alumni Scholar

BA, magna cum laude, with Highest Honors in History and Political Science, UCLA
JD, Yale Law School


Biography

Robert L. Tsai is a professor of law at Boston University School of Law, where he teaches courses in constitutional law, presidential leadership, and individual rights. He is keenly interested in political culture, legal change, democratic design, inequality, and popular sovereignty. Professor Tsai is the author of three books: Practical Equality: Forging Justice in a Divided Nation (W.W. Norton 2019); America’s Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community (Harvard 2014); and Eloquence and Reason: Creating a First Amendment Culture (Yale 2008).

Joshua Rothman, writer for the New Yorker, observed, “The gap between intuition and argument—between outrage and the best response to that outrage—is the subject of Robert Tsai’s Practical Equality.” Aziz Rana hailed America’s Forgotten Constitutions as “a remarkable feat of excavation” in the Texas Law Review, while Susan McWilliams called the book “magisterial… one of the most captivating works on American political thought and constitutional history to be written in the last several years.” In Perspectives on Politics, Beau Breslin said Tsai’s first book, Eloquence and Reason, was “fresh,” “sophisticated… the theory presented is subtle in its complexity,” while legal historian Anders Walker deemed it “nuanced, novel, and compelling.”

Professor Tsai is currently working on a manuscript titled, Demand the Impossible: Race, Poverty, and One Man’s Quest for Equal Justice (under contract with W.W. Norton), that explores the life and times of Stephen Bright, who for nearly 40 years led the Southern Center for Human Rights. SCHR’s experiences handling capital cases and prison condition suits teach us about the strategies and ideas that worked during the early decades of mass incarceration in America.

Professor Tsai has authored numerous law review articles and peer-edited essays. A representative sample of his work includes: “After McCleskey,” 96 Southern California Law Review (forthcoming 2023); “Inequality During a Pandemic, Parts I-II,” Harvard Law Review online (2020); “Manufactured Emergencies,”129 Yale Law Journal Forum 350 (2020); “Racial Purges,” 118 Michigan Law Review 1127 (2020); “Constitutional Borrowing,” 108 Michigan Law Review 459 (2010); “John Brown’s Constitution,” 51 Boston College Law Review 151 (2010); “Reconsidering Gobitis: An Exercise in Presidential Leadership,” 86 Washington University Law Review 363 (2008); and “Fire, Metaphor, and Constitutional Myth-Making,” 93 Georgetown Law Journal 181 (2004). Two of Tsai’s papers were selected for the Stanford-Yale Junior Faculty Forum—one in constitutional theory, one in constitutional history.

His scholarship has been featured by the New Yorker, NPR, MSNBC, Morning Joe, American Scholar, Daily Beast, Boston Globe, and Harvard Law Review. Additionally, he has served as a legal commentator on Meet the Press and MSNBC. His popular writings have appeared in the New York Review of Books, Washington Post, Politico, Boston Globe, Slate, and Boston Review.

Tsai is a graduate of Yale Law School and the University of California, Los Angeles. After law school, he clerked for Denny Chin, US District Court, SDNY, and Hugh Bownes, US Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

Before joining BU Law, Professor Tsai taught at American University. He has also taught at the University of Oregon. In fall 2019, he served as the Clifford Scott Green Chair and Visiting Professor of Law at Temple University.

Publications

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  • Robert L. Tsai, The Place of the Presidency in Historical Time 101 Boston University Law Review (2021)
    Scholarly Commons
  • Robert L. Tsai, The New Abortion Vigilantism The New York Review of Books (2021)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Not Popular Enough no. 61 Democracy Journal (2021)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, The Future of Materialist Constitutionalism The New Rambler (2021) (book review)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Can Sandel Dethrone Meritocracy? 2021 American Journal of Law and Equality (2021)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Supreme Court Precedent and the Politics of Repudiation, in Law's infamy : Understanding the Canon of Bad Law (Austin Sarat, Lawrence Douglas & Martha Merrill Umphrey,2021)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Legacies of Pragmatism 69 Drake Law Review (2021)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, A Proper Burial 74 Arkansas Law Review (2021)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Equality is a Brokered Idea 88 George Washington Law Review Arguendo (2020)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Racial Purges 118 Michigan Law Review (2020) (book review)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Review of Extraordinary Racial Politics by Fred Lee 106 Journal of American History (2019) (book review)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Considerations of History and Purpose in Constitutional Borrowing 28 William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal (2019)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, The Hidden Costs of Dissent 34 Constitutional Commentary (2019)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Manufactured Emergencies 129 Yale Law Journal Forum (2019)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Immigration Unilateralism and American Ethnonationalism 51 Loyola University Chicago Law Journal (2019)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Practical Equality: Forging Justice in a Divided Nation (2019)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Obama's Conversion on Same-Sex Marriage: The Social Foundations of Individual Rights 50 Connecticut Law Review (2018)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Review of Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation by Nicholas Guyatt 104 Journal of American History (2017) (book review)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Legal Language: Expansion, Consolidation, Resistance, in The Routledge Research Companion to Law and Humanities in Nineteenth-Century America (Nan Goodman & Simon Stern,2017)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Review of The Civic Constitution: Civic Visions and Struggles in the Path Toward Constitutional Democracy by Elizabeth Beaumont 15 Contemporary Political Theory (2016) (book review)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, A Tradition at War with Itself: A Reply to Professor Rana's Review of America's Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community 94 Texas Law Review (2016)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Three Arguments About War 30 Constitutional Commentary (2015)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Review of Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United by Zephyr Teachout 102 Journal of American History (2015) (book review)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Conclusion. The Migration of Legal Ideas: Legislative Design and the Lawmaking Process, in Comparative Law in Legislative Drafting: The Increasing Importance of Dialogue Amongst Parliaments (Nicola Lupo and Lucia Scaffardi (eds.).,2014)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, America's Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community (2014)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, "Simple" Takes on the Supreme Court 5 Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review (2013)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Introduction: The Politics of Hate 10 Journal of Hate Studies (2012)
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  • Robert L. Tsai & Nelson Tebbe, Notes on Borrowing and Convergence 111 Columbia Law Review Sidebar (2011)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Aryans, Gender, and American Politics 4 Sexuality and Politics (2011)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, The Ethics of Melancholy Citizenship 89 Oregon Law Review (2010)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, From Words to Worlds: Exploring Constitutional Functionality by Beau Breslin 8 Perspectives on Politics (2010) (book review)
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  • Robert L. Tsai & Nelson Tebbe, Constitutional Borrowing 108 Michigan Law Review (2010)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, John Brown's Constitution 51 Boston College Law Review (2010)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Public Forum, in Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States (David S. Tanenhaus,2009)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, First Amendment, in Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States (David S. Tanenhaus,2009)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Chambers v. Florida, in Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States (David S. Tanenhaus,2009)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Sovereignty as Discourse 25 Constitutional Commentary (2008)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Reconsidering Gobitis: An Exercise in Presidential Leadership 86 Washington University Law Review (2008)
    Scholarly Commons
  • Robert L. Tsai, Eloquence and Reason: Creating a First Amendment Culture (2008)
    Scholarly Commons
  • Robert L. Tsai, Democracy's Handmaid 86 Boston University Law Review (2006)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Sacred Visions of Law 90 Iowa Law Review (2005)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Fire, Metaphor, and Constitutional Myth-Making 93 Georgetown Law Journal (2004)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Speech and Strife 67 Law & Contemporary Problems (2004)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Conceptualizing Constitutional Litigation as Anti-Government Expression: a Speech-Centered Theory of Court Access 51 American University Law Review (2002)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, The System Worked: Our Schizophrenic Stance on Welfare 106 Yale Law Journal (1996) (book review)
    Scholarly Commons

In the Media

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  • BU Today September 30, 2022

    As Supreme Court Starts New Term, Some Cases to Watch

    Robert Tsai and Jack Beermann are quoted.
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  • Half Moon Bay Review September 28, 2022

    Sheriffs Can’t Be Trusted to Police Themselves Any Longer

    Robert L. Tsai is quoted.
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  • Vox September 17, 2022

    Why It’s So Hard to Rewrite A Country’s Constitution

    Robert L. Tsai is quoted.
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  • News19 June 25, 2022

    Roe Demise Shows Conservative Supreme Court Wants To Move ‘Very Far and Very Fast,’ Law Professor Says

    Robert Tsai is quoted.
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  • The Hill May 19, 2022

    State Judicial Elections Take on New Importance With Roe in Peril

    Robert Tsai is quoted.
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  • The Hill May 5, 2022

    Conservative Court Strategy Bears Fruit As Roe Faces Peril

    Robert Tsai is quoted.
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  • Politico May 3, 2022

    What Rights Could Unravel Next

    A piece authored by Robert L. Tsai.
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  • BU Today January 19, 2022

    One Year after Joe Biden’s Inauguration, BU Experts Give Him a Mixed Review

    Robert Tsai is quoted.
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  • LPE Project January 10, 2022

    New Year, New Amendments

    Robert Tsai authored an opinion.
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  • Brookline Patch January 7, 2022

    Brookline To Host Virtual Event In Honor Of MLK

    Robert L. Tsai is keynote speaker.
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  • Politico October 15, 2021

    He Calls Himself the ‘American Sheriff.’ Whose Law Is He Following?

    Robert L. Tsai is quoted.
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  • The Hill October 4, 2021

    Fate of Abortion Access Looms over New Supreme Court Term

    Robert L. Tsai is quoted.
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  • The New York Review September 23, 2021

    The New Abortion Vigilantism

    A piece co-authored by Robert L. Tsai.
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  • BU Today July 1, 2021

    Supreme Court Decision Is Bad News for Voting Rights

    A Q&A with Robert Tsai.
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  • Slate June 24, 2021

    How to Avoid the Culture War Trap Around Critical Race Theory

    A commentary by Linda McClain and Robert Tsai.
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