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Former Obama official Cass Sunstein at Tulane Law March 16

March 10, 2015

CassSunstein 2015McGlincheyLecture400

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor and former Obama Administration official, is Tulane Law School’s 2015 McGlinchey lecturer, set for March 16.

Photo courtesy of Harvard Law School 

The New York Times magazine has described Professor Cass Sunstein as “the most productive and probably the most influential liberal legal scholar of his generation.” 

Talk-radio host Glenn Beck called Sunstein “the most dangerous man in America.” 

And the legal search site HeinOnline listed him as the most-cited legal scholar ever. 

A longtime friend of President Barack Obama, Sunstein gained international renown as a legal scholar during 27 years at the University of Chicago. He moved to Harvard Law School in 2008 then spent three years as the Obama Administration’s “regulatory czar” before returning to teaching.

On March 16, Sunstein brings his wide-ranging expertise to Tulane for the law school’s 20th Dermot S. McGlinchey Lecture on Federal Litigation

The event is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the Wendell H. Gauthier Appellate Moot Court Room 110, with a reception to follow in the Marian Mayer Berkett Multipurpose Room. The McGlinchey Stafford law firm established the lecture in 1996 to honor its founder, the late Dermot S. McGlinchey (L ’57), a dedicated Tulane Law supporter who devoted much of his life to promoting equal access to the courts.

Sunstein, a constitutional law specialist who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School. He also is an authority on administrative law and behavioral economics. He writes prolifically in academic publications and popular-media outlets about topics as diverse as the polarizing effects of group-think; President Obama’s immigration reform initiative; cost-benefit analysis of climate change’s impact on animals; and regulating manipulation of consumer choices.

His work is so widely known and referenced that a pair of Vanderbilt Law School professors in 2007 wrote a paper called “Six Degrees of Cass Sunstein: Collaboration Networks in Legal Scholarship.” 

Two of his numerous books, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (written with University of Chicago behavioral economist Richard H. Thaler), and Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism, propose ways of moving people to make better choices in their own interests. An oft-cited example is the notion that if employers have incentives to enroll their workers in tax-free individual retirement accounts (employees can opt out), workers will be more likely to save than if they must opt in for payroll deductions. 

Sunstein brought some of that philosophy to his job as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in 2009-12. Among other achievements, he reviewed a plethora of agency rules, including those implementing the Affordable Care Act; supported higher auto fuel-efficiency standards; and advocated turning the food pyramid into a plate as a clearer picture of government nutrition recommendations. 

Sunstein’s McGlinchey lecture will examine institutional flip-flops in law and politics. For example, Republicans and Democrats in Congress only approve of the filibuster when they want to block nominees from a president of the other party. “Fair-weather federalists” advocate states’ rights when it suits their purpose. Supreme Court justices’ exercise of judicial restraint might depend on whether they like the result. 

In research with University of Chicago Law Professor Eric Posner, Sunstein has examined various kinds of flip-flops — real and perceived — and whether they’re unacceptable hypocrisy in need of systemic correcting or, in some cases, might be honorable changes of position. 


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