Laurence Tribe

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Laurence Tribe
Born Laurence Henry Tribe
(1941-10-10) October 10, 1941 (age 74)
Shanghai, China
Nationality American
Fields Constitutional law
Institutions Harvard Law School
Alma mater Harvard University
Notable students President Barack Obama[1]
Chief Justice John Roberts[2]
Associate Justice Elena Kagan[3]
Kathleen Sullivan[1]
Spouse Carolyn Ricarda Kreye (1964-present; 2 children)

Laurence Henry Tribe (born October 10, 1941) is a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University. He also works with the firm Massey & Gail LLP on a variety of matters.[4]

Tribe is a liberal scholar of constitutional law[5][6] and cofounder of American Constitution Society. He is the author of American Constitutional Law (1978), a major treatise in that field, and has argued before the United States Supreme Court 36 times.[7]

Early life and education[edit]

Tribe was born in Shanghai, China, the son of Paulina (née Diatlovitsky) and George Israel Tribe.[8] His father was from Poland and his mother was born in Harbin, to a family of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.[9][10][11] He was raised in the French Quarter of Shanghai.[9] Tribe attended Abraham Lincoln High School, San Francisco, California. He holds an A.B. in mathematics, summa cum laude from Harvard College (1962), and a J.D., magna cum laude from Harvard Law School (1966), where he was a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Tribe was a member of the Harvard team that won the intercollegiate National Debate Tournament in 1961 and coached the team to the same title in 1969.[12]


Tribe served as a law clerk to Mathew Tobriner on the California Supreme Court from 1966–67 and as a law clerk to Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1967–68. He joined the Harvard Law School faculty as an assistant professor in 1968, receiving tenure in 1972. Among his law students and research assistants while on the faculty at Harvard have been Barack Obama (a research assistant for two years), Chief Justice John Roberts (as a law student in his classes), and Elena Kagan (as a research assistant).[13]

In 1978 he published the first version of what has become one of the core texts on the subject, American Constitutional Law. It has since been updated and expanded a number of times.[14]

In 1983 Tribe represented Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon in the appeal of his federal conviction on income tax charges.[15]

Tribe represented the restaurant Grendel's Den in the case Larkin v Grendel's Den in which the restaurant challenged a Massachusetts's law which allowed religious establishments to prohibit liquor sales. The case reached the United States Supreme Court in 1982 where the court overturned the law as violating of the separation of church and state.[16] The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well criticizes the opening of his brief as a"thicket of confusing citations and unnecessary definitions" stating that it would have been "measurably strengthened" if he had used the "more lively imagery" that he had used in a footnote later in the document.[17]

In the 1985 National Gay Task Force v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, Tribe represented the National Gay Task Force who had won an Appeal's Court ruling against an Oklahoma law that would have allowed schools to fire teachers who were attracted to people of the same sex or spoke in favor of civil rights for LGBT people. The Supreme Court deadlocked which left the Appeal's Court's favorable ruling in place, declaring the law would have violated the First Amendment.[18]

The Supreme Court ruled against Tribe's client in Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986 and held that a Georgia state law criminalizing sodomy, as applied to consensual acts between persons of the same sex, did not violate fundamental liberties under the principle of substantive due process. However, in 2003 the Supreme Court overruled Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas, a case for which Tribe wrote the ACLU's amicus curiae brief supporting Lawrence, who was represented by Lambda Legal.[18]

Tribe testified at length during the Senate confirmation hearings in 1987 about the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, arguing that Bork's stand on the limitation of rights in the Constitution would be unique in the history of The Court.[19] His participation in the hearings raised his profile outside of the legal realm and he became a target of right-wing critics.[19] His phone was later found to have been wire tapped, but it was never discovered who had placed the device or why. [19]

His 1990 book Abortion: Clash of Absolutes, was called "informative, lucidly written and cogently reasoned" in a review in the Journal of the American Bar Association.[5]

Tribe was part of Al Gore's legal team regarding the results of the United States presidential election, 2000. Due to the close nature of the vote count, recounts had been initiated in Florida, and the recounts had been challenged in court. Tribe argued the initial case in Federal Court in Miami in which they successfully argued that the court should not stop the recount of the votes which was taking place and scheduled to take place in certain counties.[20] David Boies argued for the Gore team in a related matter in the Florida State Courts regarding the dates that Secretary of State of Florida Katherine Harris would accept recounts.[20] When the original Federal case, Bush v Gore, was appealed, Gore and his advisers decided at the last minute to have Boies instead of Tribe argue the case at the Supreme Court.[20] In a 5-4 decision, the court elected George W. Bush as President.[20]

In 2004, Tribe acknowledged having plagiarized several specific phrases and a sentence in his 1985 book, God Save this Honorable Court, to a 1974 book by Henry Abraham.[21][22] After an investigation, Tribe was reprimanded by Harvard for "a significant lapse in proper academic practice" but concluded that Tribe's error was unintentional.[23]

Since the mid 1990s, Tribe has represented a number of corporations advocating for their free speech rights and constitutional personhood.[24] Tribe represented General Electric in its defense against its liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act ("Superfund"), in which GE and Tribe unsuccessfully argued that the act unconstitutionally violated General Electric's due process rights.[25][24]

In 2014, Tribe was retained to represent Peabody Energy in a suit against the Environmental Protection Agency. Tribe argued that EPA's use of the Clean Air Act to implement its Clean Power Plan was unconstitutional.[26] Tribe's legal analysis has been criticized by other legal commentators, including fellow Harvard Law School professors Richard J. Lazarus and Jody Freeman (who described his conclusion as "wholly without merit"),.[27][28] His advocacy for corporations like Peabody has been criticized by liberal legal experts.[24]

Political involvement[edit]

Tribe is one of the co-founders of the liberal American Constitution Society, the law and policy organization formed to counter the conservative Federalist Society, and is one of a number of scholars at Harvard Law School who have expressed their support for animal rights.[29]

Tribe served as a judicial adviser to the Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.[1][30] In February 2010, he was named "Senior Counselor for Access to Justice" in the Department of Justice.[7][31] He resigned eight months later, citing health reasons.[32]

Personal life[edit]

Tribe married Carolyn Ricarda Kreye in 1964. Their two children, Mark and Kerry, are visual artists.[33][34]

On May 22, 2013, he was presented with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Columbia University during its Class of 2013 commencement.[35]


The following a list of cases Tribe has argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, as of the end of 2005:

Case Citation Year
Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia 448 U.S. 555 1981
Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness 452 U.S. 640 1981
Crawford v. Board of Education 458 U.S. 527 1982
Larkin v. Grendel’s Den 459 U.S. 116 1982
White v. Massachusetts Council 460 U.S. 204 1983
Pacific Gas & Electric v. California 461 U.S. 190 1983
Hawaii Housing Auth. v. Midkiff 467 U.S. 229 1984
Northeast Bancorp v. Fed. Reserve 472 U.S. 159 1985
National Gay Task Force v. Board of Education 470 U.S. 159 1985
Fisher v. City of Berkeley 475 U.S. 260 1986
Bowers v. Hardwick 478 U.S. 186 1986
Pennzoil v. Texaco 481 U.S. 1 1986
Schweiker v. Chilicky 487 U.S. 412 1988
Granfinanciera v. Nordberg 492 U.S. 33 1989
Sable Communications v. FCC 492 U.S. 115 1989
Adams Fruit v. Barrett 494 U.S. 638 1990
Rust v. Sullivan 500 U.S. 173 1991
Cipollone v. Liggett 505 U.S. 504 1992
TXO v. Alliance Resources 509 U.S. 443 1993
Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg 512 U.S. 415 1994
U.S. v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone 516 U.S. 415 1996
Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party 520 U.S. 351 1997
Vacco v. Quill 521 U.S. 793 1997
Amchem Products v. Windsor 521 U.S. 591 1997
Baker v. General Motors 522 U.S. 222 1998
AT&T v. Iowa Utilities Board 525 U.S. 366 1999
Ortiz v. Fibreboard 527 U.S. 815 1999
Bush v. Gore I 531 U.S. 70 2000
New York Times Co. v. Tasini 533 U.S. 438 2001
U.S. v. United Foods 533 U.S. 405 2001
FCC v. NextWave 537 U.S. 293 2002
State Farm v. Campbell 538 U.S. 408 2003
Nike v. Kasky 539 U.S. 654 2003
Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association 544 U.S. 550 2005

Tribe has argued 26 cases in the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals:[citation needed]

Case Citation Circuit Year
Worldwide Church of God v. California 623 F.2d 613 9th Cir. 1980
Grendel's Den v. Goodwin 662 F.2d 102 1st Cir. 1981
Pacific Legal Foundation v. State Energy Resources 659 F.2d 903 9th Cir. 1981
United States v. Sun Myung Moon 718 F.2d 1210 2d Cir. 1983
Romany v. Colegio de Abogados 742 F.2d 32 1st Cir. 1984
Westmoreland v. CBS 752 F.2d 16 2d Cir. 1984
Colombrito v. Kelly 764 F.2d 122 2d Cir. 1985
Texaco v. Pennzoil 784 F.2d 1133 2d Cir. 1986
U.S. v. Bank of New England 821 F.2d 844 1st Cir. 1987
U.S. v. Gallo 859 F.2d 1078 2d Cir. 1988
U.S. v. GAF Corporation 884 F.2d 670 2d Cir. 1989
U.S. v. Western Electric Company 900 F.2d 283 D.C. Cir. 1999
Fineman v. Armstrong World Industries 980 F.2d 171 D.C. Cir. 1992
U.S. v. Western Electric Company 993 F.2d 1572 D.C. Cir. 1993
Lightning Lube v. Witco Corporation 4 F.3d 1153 3d Cir. 1993
Hopkins v. Dow Corning Corporation 33 F.3d 1116 9th Cir. 1994
Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone v. U.S. 42 F.3d 181 4th Cir. 1994
Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc. 83 F.3d 610 3d Cir. 1996
BellSouth Corp. v. F.C.C. 144 F.3d 58 D.C. Cir. 1998
SBC Communications v. F.C.C. 154 F.3d 226 5th Cir. 1998
City of Dallas v. F.C.C. F.3d 341 5th Cir. 1999
U.S. West v. Tristani 182 F.3d 1202 PDF (90.5 KB) 10th Cir. 1999
U.S. West v. F.C.C. 182 F.3d 1224 PDF (220 KB) 10th Cir. 1999
Southwest Voter Registration v. Shelley 344 F.3d 914 PDF (23.0 KB) 9th Cir. 2003
Pacific Gas and Elec. v. California 350 F.3d 932 PDF (144 KB) 9th Cir. 2003
General Electric v. E.P.A. 360 F.3d 188 PDF (49.8 KB) D.C. Cir. 2004


  • Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution (2014; co-author with Joshua Matz)
  • The Invisible Constitution (2008)
  • American Constitutional Law (treatise; 1978, 1979, 1988, and 2000)
  • On Reading the Constitution (1991; co-author with Michael Dorf)
  • Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes (1990)
  • Constitutional Choices (1985)
  • God Save This Honorable Court: How the Choice of Supreme Court Justices Shapes Our History (1985)
  • The Supreme Court: Trends and Developments (1979, 1980, 1982, 1983)
  • When Values Conflict: Essays on Environmental Analysis, Discourse, and Decision (editor; 1976)
  • The American Presidency: Its Constitutional Structure (1974)
  • Channeling Technology Through Law (1973)
  • Environmental Protection (1971; co-author with Louis Jaffe)
  • Technology: Processes of Assessment and Choice (1969)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Schoenberg, Shira (November 14, 2007). "Law expert: Obama will preserve Constitution". Concord Monitor. 
  2. ^ Bronner, Ethan (June 28, 2012). "A Re-Examination of Roberts’s Legacy?". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Davenport, Coral (April 6, 2015). "Laurence Tribe Fights Climate Case Against Star Pupil From Harvard, President Obama". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ "Laurence H. Tribe". Massey & Gail LLP. Retrieved 2012-04-06. 
  5. ^ a b Kenneth Jost (May 1990). "Roe Revisited (ABA Review)". ABA Journal. American Bar Association. pp. 110–. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  6. ^ Gregory, Vanessa (2010-12-06) Indefensible, The American Prospect
  7. ^ a b Johnson, Carrie (February 26, 2010). "Prominent Harvard law professor joins Justice Department". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-04-06. Tribe has served as lead counsel in 35 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, testified before Congress dozens of times and wrote a major treatise on constitutional law. 
  8. ^ Sullivan, Kathleen M; College Of Law, University of Tulsa (2007). Legal scholarship symposium: the scholarship of Laurence Tribe. Retrieved April 10, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b "Laurence Tribe on Background". Big Think. 
  10. ^ Bhayani, Paras D. (October 18, 2006). "A Humble Start on the Path to Stardom". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved April 15, 2012. 
  11. ^ Carlton Sherwood, Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Regnery Publishing, 1991, 0-89526-532-X, pages 384-386
  12. ^ Benjamin Nugent. "American Nerd: The Story of My People". Google Books. p. 104. Retrieved October 2, 2015. 
  13. ^ Laurence Tribe discusses John Roberts' Supreme Court on YouTube
  14. ^ Kinnard, Jacob N. (2006). The Emergence of Buddhism. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 192–. ISBN 9780313328381. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  15. ^ Carlton Sherwood, Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Regnery Publishing, 1991, 0-89526-532-X, pages 384-386
  16. ^ Epps, Garrett (2001-03-15). To An Unknown God: Religious Freedom On Trial. St. Martin's Press. pp. 79–. ISBN 9780312262396. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  17. ^ Goldstein, Tom; Lieberman, Jethro K. (2002-12-14). The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well: Second Edition. University of California Press. pp. 81–. ISBN 9780520929074. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  18. ^ a b Blount, Jackie M. (2005). Fit to Teach: Same-Sex Desire, Gender, and School Work in the Twentieth Century. SUNY Press. pp. 160–. ISBN 9780791462676. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  19. ^ a b c Bronner, Ethan (2007). Battle for Justice: How the Bork Nomination Shook America. Union Square Press. pp. 266–. ISBN 9781402752278. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  20. ^ a b c d Toobin, Jeffrey (2002-10-01). Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election. Random House. pp. 100–. ISBN 9780375761072. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  21. ^ Bottum, Joseph (October 4, 2004). "The Big Mahatma". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved May 11, 2010. 
  22. ^ Rimer, Sara (November 24, 2004). "When Plagiarism's Shadow Falls on Admired Scholars". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2010. 
  23. ^ Pope, Justin (April 14, 2005). "Harvard Reprimands Law Professor Over Book". Associated Press.  Archived April 20, 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ a b c Tim Wu (May 6, 2015). "Did Laurence Tribe Sell Out?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  25. ^ Mayberry, Jodine (February 26, 2009). "GE Loses Last Issue in Lengthy Court Case on Superfund Liability". Archived from the original on May 28, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  26. ^ Davenport, Coral (March 19, 2015). "McConnell urges states to help thwart Obama's war on coal". The New York Times. 
  27. ^ "Is the President’s Climate Plan Unconstitutional?". Harvard Law Today. March 18, 2015. 
  28. ^ "Larry Tribe and Mitch McConnell’s Flagrant Constitutional Error". POLITICO Magazine. March 25, 2015. 
  29. ^ "'Personhood' Redefined: Animal Rights Strategy Gets at the Essence of Being Human", Association of American Medical Colleges, retrieved April 10, 2011.
  30. ^ Egelko, Bob (2008-10-20). "Next president will shape Supreme Court". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  31. ^ "Tribe named Senior Counselor for Access to Justice". Harvard Law School. February 26, 2010. Retrieved February 26, 2010. 
  32. ^ "Laurence Tribe to return to Harvard Law School in January". Harvard Law School. November 18, 2010. Retrieved April 15, 2012. 
  33. ^ "2002 Dedication - Laurence H. Tribe". New York University School of Law. Retrieved October 1, 2015. 
  34. ^ Blumenkranz, Carla (September 22, 2008). "Radical Speak Performance Artist Mark Tribe Breathes New Life Into Old Politics". New York (New York Magazine Company) 41: 66. 
  35. ^ "Columbia Announces 2013 Honorary Degree Recipients". Columbia University. April 8, 2013. 


External links[edit]