The Federalist Society is delighted to announce that the winner of the 2024 Joseph Story Award is Professor Aditya Bamzai of the University of Virginia School of Law. The annual award recognizes a junior academic (ten years or less on the tenure track or 40 and under) who has demonstrated excellence in legal scholarship, a commitment to teaching, a concern for students, and who has made a significant public impact in a manner that advances the rule of law in a free society. It is named for Joseph Story, who was appointed to the Supreme Court at the age of 32, served as the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard, and wrote Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. The Story Award is the successor to the Paul M. Bator Award, established in 1989 in memory of Professor Bator for similar purposes.

Keith Zimmerman, the 2024 Joseph Story Award Chair at the University of Chicago and student member of the selection committee, presented the award to Professor Bamzai on March 9 at the Federalist Society’s 43rd Annual National Student Symposium. The Symposium was hosted by the Harvard Law School’s Federalist Society Student Chapter. 

Mr. Zimmerman began by detailing Professor Bamzai’s impressive scholarly contributions in administrative law with articles published in the Yale Law Journal, the Harvard Law Review, and other journals. Mr. Zimmerman highlighted Professor Bamzai’s most cited article, The Origins of Judicial Deference to Executive Interpretation, as a splendid example of originalist scholarship. Zimmerman said, “Combining a deep study of theory and practice from the Founding and a careful analysis of historical canons of construction, the article provides a necessary response to the dubious deference history woven by Chevron.” He continued by noting that “the article has already been referenced in many federal court opinions, including a handful of dissents and concurrences in the Supreme Court.” Mr. Zimmerman went on, “Perhaps it will be referenced in a majority opinion in the near future.”

Mr. Zimmerman also took note of Professor Bamzai’s extensive public service record, which includes his work as Counsel for the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and as an Attorney-Adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel, as well as his service as a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Finally, Mr. Zimmerman discussed Professor Bamzai’s work as a dedicated teacher and mentor to his students. At Virginia Law, Professor Bamzai’s “students describe him as a tireless advocate, and the biggest supporter of the Federalist Society chapter at UVA.” Zimmerman finished his remarks by saying that “Professor Bamzai’s selfless devotion to his students is a laudable example that all should strive to emulate.”

In accepting the award, Professor Bamzai began by remarking how honored he was to follow in the footsteps of many “great prior recipients of this award and its predecessor.” He also thanked the Federalist Society and the selection committee for including him in such a prestigious company.

Professor Bamzai then dove into the biography of Joseph Story, detailing his impressive academic and public service accomplishments. He highlighted how Story “believed inquiry into the past was indispensable to the craft of judging.” Despite being “regarded as one of the great jurists of the early Republic,” Story, Bamzai mused, might well have worried that he and his contemporaries “had missed the crucial epoch-making moments of history” and were only “inheritors of a set of values and a great tradition.”

Professor Bamzai closed his remarks on Joseph Story by bringing Story’s anxieties into our own time, stating that “we are the inheritors of the same great legal tradition” and that many of us might think we missed a “golden age of epoch-making moments now long gone.” But, he said, “the fact of the matter is that every one of our predecessors faced comparable anxieties.” Looking up from the podium at the assembly of law students and colleagues, Professor Bamzai concluded his speech: 

More fundamentally, we share with Joseph Story and many of our predecessors a set of commitments to individual liberty and the preservation of tradition, both rightly understood, and to the rule of law in an ordered society. 

That is not to say that Justice Story got every single decision he made right; far from it. The connection runs deeper than individual cases. 

The rule of law depends on an understanding that like cases must be treated alike and that, for such cases to be treated comparably, there must be a distinction drawn and enforced between what the law is and what it should be. That distinction and that approach to law, which was difficult to pinpoint in Justice Story’s time, remains difficult to discern in our present day. . . . Differences exist and, when they do, they should be explored with analytical rigor and fairness. But a commitment to the distinction is what sets apart a judicial system with a commitment to the rule of law from a system without such a commitment. 

The distinction between what the law is and what it should be is also written into the mission statement of the Federalist Society. It’s why I’m honored to receive today’s award.

The Society’s recognition of Professor Bamzai’s accomplishments ended on a lighter note: Professor Michael McConnell of Stanford, who was scheduled to participate in a debate following the award presentation, took the opportunity before the debate started to extend his personal congratulations to Professor Bamzai. Noting that he had known Professor Bamzai in his prior incarnation as an appellate lawyer, Professor McConnell explained that they had worked hand-in-glove together on a series of Supreme Court cases affectionately known as “the raisin cases.” Professor McConnell concluded: “it pleases me to no end for the raisin case victor to be the Story Award winner.” 

Note from the Editor: The Federalist Society takes no positions on particular legal and public policy matters. Any expressions of opinion are those of the author. We welcome responses to the views presented here. To join the debate, please email us at [email protected].