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Recognition for the Ruler of Rules

Annual Survey dedicates a volume to public intellectual and prolific scholar Cass Sunstein.

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The author or co-author of hundreds of articles and more than two dozen books, Cass Sunstein is the most widely cited legal scholar in the United States. His breadth of study includes but is not limited to administrative law and policy, constitutional law and theory, behavioral economics and law, and environmental law. After a long career as a University of Chicago Law School professor, he joined the Harvard Law School faculty in 2008. Two years later, Sunstein took a leave of absence to become the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), part of the Office of Management and Budget. Thrust into the media spotlight, he was soon a favorite target of conservative talk-show hosts.

In April, the Annual Survey of American Law held a ceremony to mark the dedication of its 68th volume to Sunstein. He joins earlier honorees such as NYU Law professors Arthur Miller (2010), Ronald Dworkin (2006), and NYU President John Sexton (2003), and Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer (2007), Antonin Scalia (2005), and Thurgood Marshall (1983), for whom Sunstein clerked in 1979–80. Sunstein’s “contributions to the development and understanding of American law are second to none,” said Annual Survey Editor-in-Chief Darryl Stein ’11 at the ceremony. Indeed, when President Barack Obama tapped Sunstein to run OIRA, NYU Law Dean Richard Revesz and Michael Livermore ’06, executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU Law, co-wrote a commentary lauding the choice. OIRA, which reviews federal regulatory rules to decide whether the benefits are greater than the costs to implement them, “is a hugely significant office that many people in the country don’t know much about,” Revesz observed at the dedication. “I don’t think anyone has been as prepared for this job as Cass.”

Annual Survey of American Law Dedicators 2011

The dedication ceremony featured tributes to Sunstein from people whose lives have intersected his in a variety of ways, including one of his former law professors and a former law student. Richard Stewart, University Professor and John Edward Sexton Professor of Law, who taught Sunstein at Harvard Law School, noted that Sunstein is not only “a prominent public intellectual who can do theory with the best of the theorists” but also someone who is “deeply serious about law and institutions…for their role in contributing to human flourishing.” And Lisa Heinzerling, who was a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency before returning to teach at Georgetown University Law Center in January, took administrative law with Sunstein at the University of Chicago Law School. “He was my favorite teacher, not just in law school, but anywhere,” Heinzerling said. “He is the reason I do what I do.”

Others offering tributes included Sally Katzen, a visiting professor at NYU Law and OIRA administrator from 1993 to 1998; C. Boyden Gray, an adjunct professor and former White House counsel, who met Sunstein when he worked in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel; and Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law Richard Pildes, who co-authored an article with Sunstein about cost-benefit analysis and the regulatory state.

In his own remarks, Sunstein outlined some changes he has overseen at OIRA. Then he pulled back to address a broader theme: the value of work done by people who primarily study and advance ideas about the law versus that done by those who practice it. Both, of course, matter, he said, but as a deeply curious scholar addressing an audience of faculty and students, he wanted to emphasize the value of the former. “What you do…really matters,” Sunstein said. “People will pick it up, people will listen to it, and it will feed into a kind of river that is an intellectual tradition that matters and affects lives.”

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