The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Judicial Nominations

When Presidents Pick Law Profs

An observation about the role of law professors in recent administrations.


One of the things that surprised me about President Trump's judicial nominations was the (relatively) large number of legal academics he tapped for the federal appellate courts. Among the law professors President Trump appointed to the federal bench were David Stras, Joan Larsen, Steve Menashi, Stephanos Bibas, Allison Eid, Neomi Rao, and (of course) Amy Coney Barrett. By comparison, there were relatively few law professors in executive branch positions during the Trump Administration, particularly compared to the Obama Administration.

By contrast, there are a large number of legal academics working throughout the Biden Administration. Here, for instance, is a list of just the environmental law professors who have taken significant executive branch positions. Yet I can think of only one legal academics who President Biden has tapped for the appellate bench thus far: Toby Heytens for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Myrna Perez, who is now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has also been a lecturer at Columbia Law School, but I do not believe this was a full-time appointment (and many judges nominated by both presidents have worked as adjuncts).

I am not sure what explains this discrepancy, but I find it interesting. It is also possible that the gap will disappear if President Biden begins to nominate more legal academics to the courts.