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

Areas of Interest
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Procedure, Jurisprudence, Law & Government, Law & Social Sciences, Legal History
Contact
Biography

Robert L. Tsai joined the faculty in January 2021 as 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, Ask 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: “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 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
  1. Robert Tsai, "Supreme Court Precedent and the Politics of Repudiation," in Law's Infamy , Austin Sarat, Lawrence Douglas & Martha Merrill Umphrey, eds., New York University Press (forthcoming). SSRN
  2. Robert Tsai, "Equality Is a Brokered Idea," 88 George Washington Law Review Arguendo 1 (2020).
    Publisher | SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  3. Robert Tsai, "Manufactured Emergencies," 129 Yale Law Journal Forum 590 (2020). (invited essay on national emergencies)
    Publisher | SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  4. Robert Tsai, "Racial Purges," review of Beth Lew-Williams, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America, Harvard University Press (2018), 118 Michigan Law Review 1127 (2020). SSRN
  5. Robert Tsai, "Book Review," review of Fred Lee, Extraordinary Racial Politics, Temple University Press (2018), 106 Journal of American History 423 (2019).
  6. Robert Tsai, "Considerations of History and Purpose in Constitutional Borrowing," in Symposium Constitutional Rights: Intersections, Synergies, and Conflicts, 28 William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 517 (2019).
    Publisher | SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  7. Robert Tsai, "The Hidden Costs of Dissent," 34 Constitutional Commentary 489 (2019).
    Publisher | SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  8. Robert Tsai, "Immigration Unilateralism and American Ethnonationalism," 51 Loyola University Chicago Law Journal 523 (2019).
    Publisher | SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  9. Robert Tsai, Practical Equality: Forging Justice in a Divided Nation, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. (2019).
  10. Robert Tsai, "Obama's Conversion on Same-Sex Marriage: The Social Foundations of Individual Rights," 50 Connecticut Law Review 1 (2018).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  11. Robert Tsai, "Legal Language: Expansion, Consolidation, Resistance," in The Routledge Research Companion to Law and Humanities in Nineteenth-Century America , Nan Goodman & Simon Stern, eds., Routledge (2017). SSRN
  12. Robert Tsai, "Book Review," review of Elizabeth Beaumont, The Civic Constitution: Civic Visions and Struggles in the Path Toward Constitutional Democracy, Oxford University Press (2014), 15 Contemporary Political Theory e33 (2016).
  13. Robert 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 See Also 60 (2016).
    Publisher | SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  14. Robert Tsai, "Three Arguments About War," 30 Constitutional Commentary 1 (2015).
    Publisher | SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  15. Robert Tsai, America’s Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community, Harvard University Press (2014).
  16. Robert 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 & Lucia Scaffardi, eds., Eleven International Publishing (2014). SSRN
  17. Robert Tsai, "'Simple' Takes on the Supreme Court," 5 Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review 35 (2013).
    Publisher | SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  18. Robert Tsai, "Introduction: The Politics of Hate," 10 Journal of Hate Studies 9 (2012).
    SSRN
  19. Robert Tsai & Nelson Tebbe, "Constitutional Borrowing," 108 Michigan Law Review 459 (2010).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  20. Robert Tsai, "The Ethics of Melancholy Citizenship," 89 Oregon Law Review 557 (2010).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  21. Robert Tsai, "John Brown's Constitution," 51 Boston College Law Review 151 (2010).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  22. Robert Tsai, "Chambers v. Florida," in Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States, David S. Tanenhaus, ed., Macmillan Reference USA, 280 (2008).
  23. Robert Tsai, Eloquence and Reason: Creating a First Amendment Culture, Yale University Press (2008).
  24. Robert Tsai, "First Amendment," in Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States, David S. Tanenhaus, ed., Macmillan Reference USA, 218 (2008).
  25. Robert Tsai, "Public Forum," in Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States, David S. Tanenhaus, ed., Macmillan Reference USA, 148 (2008).
  26. Robert Tsai, "Reconsidering Gobitis: An Exercise in Presidential Leadership," 86 Washington University School of Law Review 363 (2008).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  27. Robert Tsai, "Democracy's Handmaid," 86 Boston University Law Review 1 (2006).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  28. Robert Tsai, "Sacred Visions of Law," 90 Iowa Law Review 1095 (2005).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  29. Robert Tsai, "Fire, Metaphor, and Constitutional Myth-Making," 93 Georgetown Law Journal 181 (2004).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  30. Robert Tsai, "Speech and Strife," 67 Law & Contemporary Problems 83 (2004).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  31. Robert Tsai, "Conceptualizing Constitutional Litigation as Anti-Government Expression: a Speech-Centered Theory of Court Access," 51 American University Law Review 835 (2002).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
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