The Federalist Society is delighted to announce that the winner of the 2021 Joseph Story Award is Professor Aaron Nielson of Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. The annual award recognizes a young academic (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 the Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. It is the successor to the Paul M. Bator Award, established in 1989 in memory of Professor Bator for similar purposes.

Grant Strobl, a student at the University of Chicago Law School and the 2021 Joseph Story Award Chair there, presented the award to Professor Nielson on March 20th at the Federalist Society’s 2021 Student Symposium.  The symposium was hosted by the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and its Federalist Society student chapter there.  On account of the ongoing pandemic the symposium and award presentation were virtual.

Like Joseph Story, Strobl said, Professor Nielson is a “budding ‘lawyer’s Everyman.’” First, “Professor Nielson is the embodiment of excellence in legal scholarship. He has written dozens of articles on administrative law, including widely cited pieces on deference,” said Mr. Strobl.

Strobl also pointed to Professor Nielson’s public service as a Supreme Court advocate.  Appointed by the Supreme Court to brief and argue in support of the constitutionality of the structure of the Federal Housing Finance Authority in Collins v. Yellen, Professor Nielson discharged this important public responsibility with “exemplary briefing and poise,” according to Strobl.

Finally, Strobl described Professor Nielson’s extraordinary commitment to his students. “One student said “[h]is door has always been open to me and . . . my peers, and . . . he eagerly helps all students secure employment, understand the law, or rediscover hope. When the father of one of [this student’s] friends and fellow classmates passed away of cancer, Professor Nielson called him and [offered] help.”  As this student concluded, “Aaron Nielson is that kind of man, professor, lawyer, and leader.”

Professor Nielson’s comments in accepting the award laid out an ideal for scholarly discussion and the relationship of that ideal to the Federalist Society. Citing a post by Professor Orin Kerr, a previous winner of the award, Professor Nielson explained that the goal of argument is not to vanquish the opposing view, but to find the truth.  “No one has a monopoly on wisdom, and when we're mistaken, we should be happy to be corrected.”

Professor Nielson continued that at the same time it is important to speak up.  As he noted, “We are not always wrong, and we need to be willing to say what we think.  And just because some ideas are unpopular or peculiar doesn't mean they are wrong.”

Finally, Professor Nielson noted the importance of engaging politely. “All too often, popular culture seems to say that because we are in a war of ideas, there is no time for measured conversation.  But politeness is an idea.  The idea is that we need to build institutions and social norms that allow new ideas to emerge.”

Prof. Nielson went on to say that these ideals are largely why he has been a member of the Federalist Society since his first semester of law school.  “When it is at its best, the Federalist Society models measured, thoughtful conversation,” said Nielson.  To be sure, “I don’t always live up to those ideals, and neither do you, and neither, frankly, does the Federalist Society,” he said to the students virtually attending the annual symposium. “But those ideals are important, and the Federalist Society is a place where those ideals are welcome.” 

Professor Nielson is one of the leading scholars of his generation in Administrative Law. His work has appeared or will soon appear in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Duke Law Journal, University of Chicago Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, and Georgetown Law Journal, among others. 

Professor Nielson received his JD from Harvard Law School (magna cum laude).  He also holds an LLM from Cambridge University with First Class honors, where he was elected a Bateman Scholar of Trinity Hall.

Professor Nielson clerked for Judges Janice Rogers Brown and Jerry Smith and Justice Samuel Alito. He is an accomplished lawyer and litigator, is a former partner at Kirkland & Ellis, serves as Chair of the Administration and Management Committee and as a public member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, and is on the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice.  He also is permanent commentator at the Yale Journal on Regulation's Notice & Comment blog.

Professor Nielson joins a distinguished group of professors honored with this award and its predecessor.

A video of the virtual award presentation, together with the text of Professor Nielson’s and Mr. Strobl’s remarks, maybe found at the links below.

Video of Presentation of 2021 Joseph Story Award to Professor Aaron Nielson

Text of Grant Strobl’s remarks

Text of Professor Aaron Nielson’s remarks

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