On Monday, March 23, Vicki Jackson, Thurgood Marshall Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, delivered William & Mary Law School’s Annual James Goold Cutler Lecture. Her talk, “Pro-Constitutional Representation and Constitutional Democracy: Comparing the Role Obligations of Judges and Elected Representatives,” focused on the often neglected study of the role played by elected representatives in America.
Professor Jackson spoke to a room packed with William & Mary students and faculty, and remarked on something many knew to be true: portraits of judges in the halls of law schools tend to outnumber those of legislators.
“Law schools and legal scholars have constructed judging as the focus of normative attention in a way that has not happened for representation,” Jackson said. She advocated for a new approach that focuses on studying the normative conceptions of the role that elected representatives play.
But why advocate for a change in focus? Says Jackson, it’s partly in response to “a time of declining respect for Congress, widespread perception of a decline in Congress’s ability to function, [wherein] those concerned with the state of American constitutional democracy can no longer afford to assume the simply unproblematic character of the legislature’s role.”
Jackson urged that scholarly attention be paid to legislators as pro-constitutional representatives, with the term pro-constitutional referring to a legislator’s “central constitutional role as legislator in [his] constitutional role as ‘legislators chosen by the people,’ as Article 1 and the 17th Amendment prescribe.”
She further argued that elected representatives should be understood to have “pro-constitutional obligations to act to promote the public good through a working government."
Professor Jackson writes and teaches about U.S. constitutional law and comparative constitutional law. She is the author of Constitutional Engagement in a Transnational Era and coauthored Comparative Constitutional Law, a leading course book in the field.
She is a member of the Executive Committee of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS), served as the Chair of the Federal Courts Section of the AALS and on the D.C. Bar Board of Governors, and practiced as a government lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Cutler Lecture series was established in 1927 by James Goold Cutler to provide an annual lecture at William & Mary by “an outstanding authority on the Constitution of the United States.”
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.