I believe teaching undergraduates is a calling. There is no profession like it. I have taught Constitutional law, civil rights and liberties, and American politics, originally at Penn State University and, for the past 25 years, at Lafayette College. I started college intending to become a lawyer; but in my junior year, after taking a Constitutional law course with Prof. Dean Alfange Jr., who began his teaching career at Lafayette, I altered my plans. I fell in love with the idea of teaching Constitutional law to undergraduates, helping them achieve their career goals, just as he had done for us.
In Constitutional law classes, students learn how to closely read and analyze the judicial decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, organically forming their theories as we study each area of the subject. As we dissect those Supreme Court cases, I teach my students how to understand the hidden meaning in these cases and be able to express those thoughts orally and in writing. My hope is to help them predict where the Court will be going next and why. In short, I am teaching all of my students how to critically analyze material and to be able to form their own theories.
I enjoy watching my students grow in their coursework, from my First-Year Seminar on “Trials of the Century” through my Constitutional Law classes, until they attend my senior seminar on “Personality, Politics, and Judicial Decision Making,” where they are able to write first-rate seminar papers and teach each other, and me, about this fascinating subject. It is so rewarding to see how accomplished they become in their analytical skills, which helps them prepare for their studies and careers after college.
Teaching these courses at Lafayette College, where the faculty can get to know each student individually and help them land in the right place for them after graduation, is like no other profession on earth. I appreciate being able, through my teaching and advising, to give back to this intellectual mission, in repayment for what others did so kindly for me and my generation when I attended college.
My Research Interests
I have written a quartet of judicial biographies about highly influential Supreme Court justices who have changed the meaning of the Constitution, and the institution on which they served, by being “politicians in judicial robes,” affecting policy both on and off the Court. With all of the political and legal changes in this country, especially as they have affected the Supreme Court, I am now working on the topic of the politicization of the Rehnquist and Roberts Supreme Courts. Why is the legitimacy of the Court now threatened by the loss of its public support, down to around 25% over the past two years, and as low as it has ever been? Given the recent controversies surrounding the Court, the uncertainty about its precedents, and the debates over possible reforms of the institution, I want to chart how strong the future public support for the Court will be, and explore how that situation might affect the justices’ votes, their intra-Court voting alliances, and their extrajudicial behavior in the future.
In addition, I have been concerned about where our American democracy is now headed. For the last three decades, I have been writing and updating a textbook that will help educate students beyond my classroom at Lafayette. Our author team just completed the final revisions for the 10th edition of this textbook, APPROACHING DEMOCRACY: American Government in Times of Challenge (Routledge, 2023), to be published this summer. It proved to be quite a challenge to catch up to the rapidly changing events to update the book since the uprising at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as well as the effect on American government caused by the pandemic.
One of the truly unique features of a Lafayette education, for both students and faculty members, is the variety of programs that allow students to study individually with various faculty members, much like the tutorial systems used by Oxford University and other leading educational institutions. The EXCEL and Bergh Family Fellows programs, together with the honors thesis program, create the kind of personal one-on-one research programs that allow students to learn individually how a research project is developed and accomplished.
Teaching and researching at Lafayette College—with all of its support for faculty, and the unique opportunity to work with such accomplished colleagues in the Government and Law Department and all of the other disciplines—has afforded me the freedom and opportunity to adjust to the dramatic changes in my intellectual field. In turn, I am able to work together with my students in exploring those new horizons. I have enjoyed adjusting my teaching mission and approach for each new generation of students. Having the freedom to figure out how best to adjust my teaching and research to the rapidly changing political environment and be able to put together classes, together with publishable material explaining those events, is a luxury colleagues at other colleges and universities may not have. This makes it a much more productive and pleasurable experience for teacher and student alike at Lafayette.
Awards and Honors
Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award, Who’s Who Publications (2017)
Mary Louise Van Arsdalen Award, Lafayette College’s top award for “outstanding scholarly achievement” (2015)
Marquis Award for Distinguished Teaching, Lafayette College’s top award for “distinctive and extraordinary teaching” (2011)
Fellow, Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies, Penn State University (1989-98)
Named a “Best Professor” and “Recommended Course,” New Improved College Book, by Lisa Birnback, Prentice Hall (1990 and 1994)
Recipient of “Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching,” highest all-Penn State University award (1987)
Citation Award winner and finalist for “Professor of the Year,” Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (1984-87)
Alumni Association Faculty Advisor of the Year, College of the Liberal Arts, Penn State University (1981)
Phi Beta Kappa
My Personal Interests/Community Work
I enjoy working with several national civics and civics engagement organizations, teaching pre-college faculty and students in person and online, as well as directing various weeklong and shorter teacher seminars for training public school teachers. These organizations have included the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement (Philadelphia), the National Constitution Center (Philadelphia), The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History (New York City), Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge (Pennsylvania), and We the People (Pennsylvania and New Jersey).
SCALIA: A Court of One, Simon and Schuster, June, 2014 (Paperback version published in 2015)
Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (Biography)
Featured reviews included The New York Times (Daily), and The New York Times Sunday Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald, Publisher’s Weekly (where it was “pick of the week” on March 31), The Library Journal, The Seattle Times, Kirkus Reviews, The New Republic, The Week, The Buffalo News, Austin-American Statesman, Booklist, Washington Times, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Antonio Express-News, National Review, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Monthly, Dayton Daily News, Commonweal, America Magazine, Florida Times-Union, Newark Star Ledger, Washington Independent Review of Books,Los Angeles Review of Books website, and The Daily Beast.
WILD BILL: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas, Random House, 2003
Nominated for Pulitzer Prize (Biography)
Book of the Month and History Book Clubs selection.
Featured reviews included The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Seattle Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe (lead Sunday review), Los Angeles Times (front-page Sunday review), Chicago Tribune (lead Sunday Review), the New Republic, and others.
The subject of news articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times.
One of the Year’s Notable Books for Publisher’s Weekly,
A 2003 Top Ten book for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
FORTAS: The Rise and Ruin of a Supreme Court Justice, William Morrow, 1988
Nominated for Pulitzer Prize (Biography)
National Book Award and Robert F. Kennedy Book Award nominations
Featured reviews included Sunday and daily New YorkTimes, The Washington Post Sunday edition, Los Angeles Times Sunday edition, and The Boston Sunday Globe
Named a “Top 10 Book” for 1988 by Washingtonian Magazine
The Brandeis/Frankfurter Connection: The Secret Political Activities of Two Supreme Court Justices, Oxford University Press, 1982
Front-page news story in The New York Times, Feb. 14, 1982
Serialized in The Washington Post
Reported in Newsweek
Earned Certificate of Merit, American Bar Association Gavel Awards
The New YorkTimes noteworthy book for 1982
Featured reviews included TimeMagazine, Los Angeles Times, Sunday edition
Los Angeles Times Bestseller
Approaching Democracy: An Introduction to American Government, with Larry Berman, Nadia E. Brown, and Sarah Roberts Allen Gershon, Routledge Publishers, 10th edition (2023)