In nearly 30 years at William & Mary Law School, Neal E. Devins has served with distinction, most recently as a Cabell Research Professor, a Professor of Government, and the Director of the Institute of Bill of Rights Law.
Now William & Mary had added another honor, appointing Devins as the inaugural Sandra Day O’Connor Professor of Law.
“Neal seems to me the ideal inaugural Sandra Day O’Connor Professor at the law school born of Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe,” said President Taylor Reveley at a dinner in Devins’ honor on Oct. 7.
The professorship is named for Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court (1981-2006) and a Chancellor of the College of William & Mary following her retirement.
“Neal’s long leadership of our Institute of Bill of Rights Law with its signature attention to the annual workings of the United States Supreme Court, along with Neal’s truly vast research, teaching, and writing, makes him eminently suited to hold a chair named for one of the most historic and powerful of the Court’s justices,” Reveley said.
Davison M. Douglas, Dean of the Law School and Arthur B. Hanson Professor of Law shared personal memories of working with Devins and extolled his meticulous study of the law.
“I think the heart of what Neal has brought to the table at William & Mary Law School has been his scholarship,” Douglas said. “Quite simply, Neal has been an extraordinarily prolific scholar.”
Douglas touted Devins’ 11 books, many of which have gone through multiple editions, as well as more than 100 law review articles and book chapters.
“He writes so clearly,” Douglas said. “He writes in a way that is easy to understand, and I think it’s a smart way to write, because his work is very accessible.”
In a profession where research is often done in solitude, Douglas also praised Devins’ ability to partner with law professors and academics in other disciplines, including government and political science.
Also honoring Devins was John O. McGinnis, the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at the Northwestern University School of Law. McGinnis helped put Devins’ scholarship and career in perspective and praised his ability to find an objective viewpoint.
“Neal Devins looks at things not just from two sides but in the round; he looks at law as it is, not where he’d like it to be,” McGinnis said. “Any school would be lucky to have him as a scholar—and any scholar would be lucky to have him as a friend.”
Devins earned an A.B. from Georgetown University and his J.D. from Vanderbilt University. An expert in civil rights law and constitutional law, he joined the William & Mary faculty in 1987, and has served as assistant general counsel for the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights and project director for the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies.
Devins is the author of Shaping Constitutional Values: The Supreme Court, Elected Government and the Abortion Dispute, and co-author of Political Dynamics of Constitutional Law and The Democratic Constitution. He is editor of the book series, Constitutional Conflicts, published by Duke University Press, and has written numerous articles in the Chicago, Columbia, Stanford, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, William & Mary, and Yale law reviews.
He has served as consultant to the ABA Central and Eastern European Law Initiative, reporter for the Congressional Process Committee of the ABA, and serves on the Board of Directors of AVALON, the battered women’s shelter. He is also faculty advisor to the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal and a two-time recipient of William & Mary’s Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence.
In remarks at the dinner, Devins recounted his early days at William & Mary, and how everyone from then President Paul Verkuil to his new colleagues expressed genuine interest in his work. He realized immediately that he was “all in at William & Mary.”
“This place is fantastic, and here it is almost 30 years later, and I’m still all in and it’s really awesome to be here,” Devins said. “I feel very much a part of William & Mary.”
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.