Michael W. McConnell

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For other people of the same name, see Michael McConnell (disambiguation).
Michael McConnell
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
In office
November 26, 2002 – August 31, 2009
Appointed by George W. Bush
Preceded by Stephen Anderson
Succeeded by Scott Matheson
Personal details
Born (1955-05-18) May 18, 1955 (age 60)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Alma mater Michigan State University
University of Chicago

Michael William McConnell (born May 18, 1955 in Louisville, Kentucky) is a constitutional law scholar who served as a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit from 2002 until 2009. Since 2009, McConnell has served as Director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School.[1] He is also a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and of Counsel to the Litigation Practice Group at Kirkland & Ellis LLP.


McConnell graduated from Michigan State University's James Madison College in 1976. McConnell received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1979, where he was an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review. He was a law clerk for James Skelly Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 1979–1980, and for Associate Justice William Brennan, Supreme Court of the United States, 1980–1981. He was an assistant general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget, 1981–1983, and an assistant to the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice, 1983–1985. McConnell was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, 1985–1996, where he brought Harvard Law graduate Barack Obama on a fellowship after being impressed with a suggestion Obama, then Harvard Law Review president, had made on one of McConnell's articles.[2] McConnell has been professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, as well as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School[3] and at the New York University School of Law.


As a law professor, McConnell has published a variety of legal articles and edited several books. As a lawyer, he has argued cases in federal courts of appeals and before the Supreme Court, including a 5–4 victory in Rosenberger v. University of Virginia.[4] He is widely regarded as one of the preeminent constitutional law scholars on the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses.[5][6]

In 1996, McConnell signed a statement supporting a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, which read, "Abortion kills 1.5 million innocent human beings in America every year...We believe that the abortion license is a critical factor in America's virtue deficit."[7]

As a respected constitutional scholar during his law school tenure, McConnell contended that originalism is consistent with the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision Brown v. Board of Education, against critics of originalism who argue that they are inconsistent.[8][9] McConnell has likewise argued that the Court's decision in Bolling v. Sharpe was correct, but should have been reached on other grounds, because Congress never "required that the schools of the District of Columbia be segregated."[10]

McConnell was highly critical of the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, writing:

I imagine that Gov. Bush and his supporters will put on a brave face and defend this decision, but I cannot imagine that there is much joy in Austin tonight. The Supreme Court, with all the prestige of its position in American public life, could have brought closure to this matter. But instead, by straddling the fence, the court has produced a combination of holdings that can please no one.[11]

Tenth Circuit nomination and confirmation[edit]

McConnell was nominated by President George W. Bush on September 4, 2001 to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate on November 15, 2002 by voice vote.

Notable cases[edit]

While sitting on the Tenth Circuit, McConnell wrote scores of judicial opinions. The Supreme Court reviewed four cases in which McConnell wrote an opinion; in each case the Court reached the same result as the opinion by Judge McConnell. First, in O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal v. Ashcroft, 546 U.S. 418 (2006), a case involving the religious use of a hallucinogenic tea, the Supreme Court affirmed 8–0 a Tenth Circuit en banc decision to which Judge McConnell wrote a concurring opinion. Second, in Fernandez-Vargas v. Gonzales, 548 U.S. 30 (2008), a case involving the retroactive application of a statutory provision limiting appeals from immigration removal orders, the Supreme Court affirmed 8–1 a Tenth Circuit panel decision written by Judge McConnell. Third, in Begay v. United States, No. 06–11543 (April 16, 2008), a case involving whether a felony conviction for driving under the influence is a crime of violence for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act, the Supreme Court reversed 6–3 a Tenth Circuit panel decision from which McConnell dissent. Fourth, in Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum, No. 07-665 (February 25, 2009), a case involving whether the presence of a Ten Commandments monument on government property gave another religion a First Amendment right to place its own monument on the same property, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed a Tenth Circuit panel decision that McConnell had challenged by writing a dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc.

Significant opinions written by McConnell include the following:

Supreme Court speculation[edit]

McConnell was mentioned as a potential nominee to the Supreme Court during the administration of President George W. Bush. In June 2005, amid expectations that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist would retire at the end of the Court's term, some sources cited McConnell as a frontrunner for Rehnquist's seat, which ultimately went to John Roberts. Professor Stephen B. Presser of Northwestern University School of Law argued[12] that McConnell was, "high on the White House's short list" because:

[McConnell] does believe that the Supreme Court has gone too far in reading the total separation of church and state into the Constitution, and because he ...understands that Roe v. Wade has no firm constitutional foundation. He might be acceptable to the left not only because so many liberal professors support him, but also because he has been public in his criticism of Bush v. Gore and the impeachment of President Clinton.

McConnell was also mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee in a John McCain or Mitt Romney presidency.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hill, Kashmir (May 5, 2009). "Musical Chairs". Above the Law. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  2. ^ Kantor, Jodi (July 30, 2008). "Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Slightly Apart". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  3. ^ Creation of the Constitution 2006 and 2008 course listings
  4. ^ McConnell's oral argument in Rosenberger.
  5. ^ Daniel Troy, "Oral Argument in Wileman Brothers Case Leaves Open Compelled Speech Question", Court Watch, Winter 1997
  6. ^ Statement of Senator Orrin Hatch, September 18, 2002
  7. ^ Bazelon, Emily; "The Front-Runners on Roe: What Bush's shortlist thinks about abortion."; [[slate.com; July 5, 2005]
  8. ^ Ramesh Ponnuru, "Originalist Sin: Conservatives, the Constitution, and affirmative action," National Review, March 10, 2003
  9. ^ Brian C. Anderson, "Why the Battle for the Court Will Be Nasty," City Journal, 2002 Summer, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 64–76.
  10. ^ Michael McConnell in What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said, page 168, ed. Jack Balkin (NYU Press 2002).
  11. ^ McConnell, Michael (2000-12-13) What Now?, Slate.com
  12. ^ Who Could Win Every senator's Vote?
  13. ^ Weiss, Debra (April 23, 2012). "The Guesswork Begins: Who Would Romney Appoint to the Supreme Court?". Retrieved 2012-06-22. 
  14. ^ Biskupic, Joan (October 23, 2008). "For divided high court, two potential legacies". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 

Further reading[edit]

His academic scholarship includes, among other publications, the following:

  • The Booker Mess, 83 Denv. U. L. Rev. 665 (2006).
  • "Book Review: Active Liberty: A Progressive Alternative to Textualism and Originalism?", 119 Harv. L. Rev. 2387 (2006).
  • The Ethics of Etiquette: An Introduction to a Symposium in Honor of Dean Lee E. Teitelbaum, 2006 Utah L. Rev. 1.
  • Establishment and Disestablishment at the Founding, Part I: Establishment of Religion, 44 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 2105 (2003).
  • Religious Freedom, Separation of Powers, and the Reversal of Roles, 2001 BYU L. Rev. 611.
  • Two-and-a-Half Cheers for Bush v. Gore, 68 U. Chi. L. Rev. 657 (2001).
  • The Supreme Court's Earliest Church-State Cases: Windows on Religious-Cultural-Political Conflict in the Early Republic, 37 Tulsa L. Rev. 7 (2001).
  • State Action and the Supreme Court's Emerging Consensus on the Line between Establishment and Private *Religious Expression, 28 Pepp. L. Rev. 681 (2000).
  • The Redistricting Cases: Original Mistakes and Current Consequences, 24 Harv. J. L. & Pub. Pol'y 103 (2000).
  • The Problem of Singling Out Religion, 50 DePaul L. Rev. 1 (2000).
  • The New Establishmentarianism, 75 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 453 (1999).
  • Why is Religious Liberty the First Freedom, 21 Cardozo L. Rev. 1243 (1999).
  • Five Reasons to Reject the Claim That Religious Arguments Should Be Excluded from Democratic Deliberation, 1999 Utah L. Rev. 639 (1999).
  • Freedom From Persecution or Protection of the Rights of Conscience?: A Critique of Justice Scalia's Historical *Arguments in City of Boerne v. Flores, 39 William and Mary Law Review 819 (1998).
  • Tradition and Constitutionalism before the Constitution, 1998 U. Ill. L. Rev. 173.
  • Equal Treatment and Religious Discrimination in Equal Treatment of Religion in a Pluralistic Society, Stephen V. Monsma and J. Christopher Soper, eds. (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998).
  • Governments, Families, and Power: A Defense of Educational Choice, 31 Conn. L. Rev. 847 (1998).
  • Institutions and Interpretation: A Critique of City of Boerne v. Flores, 111 Harvard Law Review 153 (1997).
  • The Importance of Humility in Judicial Review: A Comment on Ronald Dworkin's 'Moral Reading' of the Constitution, 65 Fordham Law Review 1269 (1997).
  • "Believers As Equal Citizens," Law and Religion: Obligations of Democratic Citizenship and Demands of Faith Symposium, Brown University (April 1997).
  • The Right to Die and the Jurisprudence of Tradition, 1997 Utah Law Review 665.
  • Establishment and Toleration in Edmund Burke's "Constitution of Freedom" 1995 Supreme Court Review 393.
  • Segregation and the Original Understanding—A Reply to Professor Maltz, 13 Constitutional Commentary 233 (1996).
  • The Importance of Humility in Judicial Review: A Comment on Ronald Dworkin's Moral Reading of the Constitution, 65 Fordham L. Rev. 1269 (1996).
  • The Originalist Case for Brown v. Board of education, 19 Harv. J. L. & Pub. Pol'y 457 (1995).
  • (May 1995). "Originalism and the desegregation decisions". Virginia Law Review (The Virginia Law Review Association via JSTOR) 81 (4): 947–1140. doi:10.2307/1073539. JSTOR 1073539. 

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Stephen Anderson
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Succeeded by
Scott Matheson