Chair of the 2020 Joseph Story Award, Brendan Anderson

“The constitution is the will, the deliberate will, of the people. They have declared under what circumstances, and in what manner it shall be amended, and altered; and until a change is effected in the manner prescribed, it is declared, that it, shall be the supreme law of the land, to which all persons, rulers, as well as citizens, must bow in obedience.” This is a quote from Justice Joseph Story, the youngest Supreme Court Justice appointed and whom this award is named after. It is contained in his seminal work Commentaries on the Constitution. As this year’s recipient of the Joseph Story award pointed out, in a post on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, the quote I just read has a very originalist tone. It shows a Justice who respected the formal process of change that the constitution prescribed and who was wary to impose unwarranted change from the bench.

The Joseph Story Award is given to an academic who is 40 years or younger and 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 my honor to announce that the winner of the 2020 Joseph Story Award is Professor Stephen Sachs of Duke Law School.

Professor Sachs meets and exceeds all of the qualifications for this award. His scholarship on originalism, legal interpretation, and civil procedure is illuminating, insightful, and willing to challenge conventional academic attitudes. He has done seminal work reconceptualizing originalism as a rule of legal change and reinvigorating the notion that judges can and do find law rather than make it. His articles have appeared in top general purpose law reviews like the Yale Law Journal, the Harvard Law Review, and (very soon) in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, as well as top specialty journals.

Professor Sachs is also admired and appreciated by his students in the classroom who speak of his engaging teaching style. One student even remarked that “his exams were genuinely enjoyable to read” (no small task). Another said “He is clearly a brilliant scholar, but I was impressed by how clearly he is able to articulate complicated legal concepts.” I could go on with numerous other glowing quotes from students. I was not fortunate enough to take professor Sachs’ seminar “Originalism and Its Discontents” when he visited Chicago this quarter, but I heard from students in the class that they enjoyed it immensely.

Outside of the classroom Professor Sachs is very generous in making himself available for student questions and discussion. According to his students, Professor Sachs also makes it a tradition of inviting them over to his home for Thanksgiving.

Finally there is no doubt that Professor Sachs’s work has made a public impact. To give the most obvious example: In June 2013, Professor Sachs wrote an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on forum selection agreements in civil cases. The Court ordered the parties to be prepared to address the brief, which was discussed at oral argument and in the Court's opinion. The brief was later named Exemplary Legal Writing in 2013 by the Green Bag Almanac and Reader. Professor Sachs is also a member of the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules and the American Law Institute, where he serves as an adviser to the Restatement of the Law (Third), Conflict of Laws.

Professor Sachs is a shining example of a professor whose scholarly abilities allow him to challenge pervading academic orthodoxy in an insightful and compelling manner. One student said that Professor Sachs changed his views from being ardently anti-originalist to being more accepting of originalism. In a world where polarization has made the idea of people changing their minds seem almost naïve, stories like this one show that when arguments are taken seriously and given their most persuasive case by people like Professor Sachs, real dialogue and influence is possible. Please join me in congratulating Professor Sachs!


Recipient, Prof. Stephen E. Sachs

I am deeply, deeply grateful to receive the Federalist Society’s Story Award. This is an extraordinary honor from an extraordinary group of people, and I’d like to take a few moments of your time to explain why.

First, I’m honored to be associated with what’s really a glittering pantheon of past recipients. Reading over the list of names from prior years is a humbling experience—it’s perhaps the greatest collection of legal academics ever assembled, with the possible exception of when Joseph Story dined alone.

Second, I’m honored to accept a prize named after Joseph Story, who truly exemplifies the ideals for which the prize is given.

He was a supreme court justice of extraordinary influence, a legal scholar of the first order, a government official who struggled to do justice under law, and—closest to my heart—the author of Swift v. Tyson, forcing first-year Civ Pro students to learn about the general law of negotiable instruments even unto the present day.

Third, I’m honored to receive this award from the Federalist Society, which similarly combines a commitment to intellectual discovery with real-world accomplishment.

I wanted to become a lawyer, partly from my dad’s example, but also because, as a lawyer, you could go into a library, do some research, make an argument—and the hope is, at the end of it, the world would be different. This is the ideal that Hamilton described in the very first paragraph of The Federalist No. 1—that societies might be capable of “establishing good government from reflection and choice,” and not “forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

I don’t know of any other organization, in America or elsewhere, whose members are simultaneously at the forefront of serious scholarship and at the forefront of government in quite the same way.

Finally, I’m particularly honored to receive this award because it shows something very special about FedSoc, something that’s unfortunately in diminishing supply today.

When I was a student, I wasn’t sure about joining FedSoc. I was still figuring out what I thought about things; I would have never attended one of these symposia; and I would never have expected to receive an award like this one.

But one of FedSoc’s true advantages, and the point I want to leave you with tonight, is that this openness, this willingness to bring people in to think things through and get to better answers, is its extraordinary strength.

By current standards, FedSoc’s politics are wildly diverse: they run the whole gamut from conservative to libertarian! That might not seem like much. But what it means is that, on any one issue, you can find someone in FedSoc who passionately but respectfully disagrees with you.

That’s true for controversial issues, like abortion or samesex marriage or presidential candidates.

And it’s true for even more controversial issues, like economic liberty or industrial policy or the unitary executive or whether Erie Railroad v. Tompkins should be overruled. (Which it should.)

FedSoc has made the choice, and it’s a deliberate choice, not to make endorsements or write manifestos or establish litmus tests. There are no Thirty-Nine Articles which every one of you had to sign. Instead, there are just broad commitments—including a commitment to discussion, to reasoning together, as the way to get things right.

Now, FedSoc isn’t just a debating society: there really are positions that most people in it share. And these ideas matter.

The point of FedSoc is not just to have a good time talking (though we do).

And it’s not just to find people you agree with (though that can be a comfort).

It’s actually to reach the truth, talking it over with those with whom you share enough to make your disagreements meaningful.

In an age when disagreement is often treated like disloyalty, and when curiosity is often confused with cowardice, a commitment to open discussion and truth is like water in the desert.

So I want all of you, once classes restart and discussions begin again, to remember that there’s a difference between reasoning and lobbying;

to remember that it’s okay to see two sides of an issue, even when your friends and peers see only one;

and to remember that the best way to make a difference in what others believe is often to be willing to have your own views changed as well.

I want to conclude now by giving thanks:

  • to my students and colleagues at Duke;
  • to the many of you in student chapters who have invited me to speak;
  • to the Faculty Division, Lee Otis and Anthony Deardurff, who have always encouraged me;
  • to my professors and mentors—Thomas Bisson, Charles Donahue, Akhil Amar, John Langbein, Henry Hansmann, Ernie Young, Judge Stephen Williams, and Chief Justice Roberts—who helped me grow as a scholar;
  • to my coauthors and kitchen cabinet, who share some of the credit and some of the blame;
  • and finally to my family, especially to my wife Amanda, who has supported and stood by me all the way through.

Thank you.