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 finishing his fourth book, Demand the Impossible: One Lawyer’s Pursuit of Equal Justice for All (W.W. Norton forthcoming Mar. 2024), 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.

He is at work on two books: one about the virtues of adaptability and capacity within a constitutional order; another about a civil rights lawyer who founded a legal services organization in Eastern Kentucky and brought legal liberalism to Appalachia.

Professor Tsai has authored numerous law review articles and peer-edited essays. A representative sample of his work includes: “Abortion Politics and the Rise of Movement Jurists,” 57 U.C. Davis Law Review (2024); “After McCleskey,” 96 Southern California Law Review (forthcoming 2023); “Abandoning Animus,” 74 Alabama Law Review 755 (2023); “The Public Defender Movement in the Age of Mass Incarceration: Georgia’s Experience,” 1 Journal of American Constitutional History 85 (2023); “Can Sandel Dethrone Meritocracy?,” 1 American Journal of Law & Equality 70 (2021); “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, Slate, 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, Los Angeles Review of Books, Boston Globe, Slate, and Boston Review.

Professor Tsai is a founding board member of the Journal of American Constitutional History, as well as Constitutional Studies. He was elected to the American Law Institute in July 2023.

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, Abandoning Animus 74 Alabama Law Review (2023)
    Scholarly Commons
  • Robert L. Tsai, Somewhere, USA, in After Life: A Collective History of Loss and Redemption in Pandemic America (Rhae Lynn Barnes, Keri Leigh Merritt, and Yohuru Williams,2022)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Why Judges Can't Save Democracy 72 Syracuse Law Review (2022)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, The Place of the Presidency in Historical Time 101 Boston University Law Review (2021)
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  • 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 & Christopher Robertson, Biden’s attempts to diversify federal courts can’t come fast enough The Hill (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, A Proper Burial 74 Arkansas Law Review (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, Manufactured Emergencies 129 Yale Law Journal Forum (2020)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, Racial Purges 118 Michigan Law Review (2020) (book review)
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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, Manufactured Emergencies 129 Yale Law Journal Forum (2019)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, The Hidden Costs of Dissent 34 Constitutional Commentary (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, 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, 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, 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, Three Arguments About War 30 Constitutional Commentary (2015)
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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, 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, "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 & Nelson Tebbe, Constitutional Borrowing 108 Michigan Law Review (2010)
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  • Robert L. Tsai, The Ethics of Melancholy Citizenship 89 Oregon 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, From Words to Worlds: Exploring Constitutional Functionality by Beau Breslin 8 Perspectives on Politics (2010) (book review)
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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, Speech and Strife 67 Law & Contemporary Problems (2004)
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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, 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)
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In the Media

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  • Boston Globe January 20, 2024

    They Were Arrested at a Pro-Palestinian Sit-In. Now, Three UMass Students Aren’t Allowed to Study Abroad.

    Robert Tsai is quoted.
    read more

  • Politico January 5, 2024

    The Unpredictable but Entirely Possible Events That Could Throw 2024 into Turmoil

    Robert Tsai is featured.
    read more

  • BBC December 20, 2023

    Colorado Supreme Court Kicks Trump Off Ballot, Citing ‘Insurrection’

    Robert Tsai is quoted.
    read more

  • Kansas Reflector December 10, 2023

    Anti-abortion Attorneys Ascend Federal Government Ranks with Christian Right Legal Training

    Robert Tsai's article is referenced.
    read more

  • American Law Institute October 19, 2023

    ‘Demand the Impossible’

    Robert Tsai's book is featured.
    read more

  • BU Today July 5, 2023

    Gay Rights, Federal Elections, and the Rest of the Supreme Court’s Historic Term

    Robert Tsai and Linda McClain are quoted.
    read more

  • POLITICO June 25, 2023

    Why the Supreme Court Really Killed Roe v. Wade

    Robert Tsai coauthors an opinion.
    read more

  • Boston Globe May 8, 2023

    ‘Stunning’ Revelations about Clarence Thomas Unlike Anything Supreme Court Has Seen Before, Legal Experts Say

    Robert Tsai is quoted.
    read more

  • BU Today September 30, 2022

    As Supreme Court Starts New Term, Some Cases to Watch

    Robert Tsai and Jack Beermann are quoted.
    read more

  • Half Moon Bay Review September 28, 2022

    Sheriffs Can’t Be Trusted to Police Themselves Any Longer

    Robert L. Tsai is quoted.
    read more

  • Vox September 17, 2022

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

    Robert L. Tsai is quoted.
    read more

  • 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.
    read more

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