Abigail Thernstrom

Hon. Abigail Thernstrom

Vice-chair, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and Adjunct Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Topics: Civil Rights

Abigail Thernstrom is the vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She was a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York from 1993 to 2009, and a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education for more than a decade until her third term ended in November 2006. She also serves on the board of advisors of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. She received her Ph.D. in 1975 from the Department of Government, Harvard University. 

In 2007 she and her husband, Stephan Thernstrom, along with James Q. Wilson, Martin Feldstein, and John Bolton, were the recipients of a Bradley Foundation prizes for Outstanding Intellectual Achievement.

Thernstrom and her husband, Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom, are the co-authors of No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning (Simon & Schuster, October 2003), which has been awarded the 2007 Fordham Foundation prize for “for distinguished scholarship,” and was named by both the Los Angeles Times and the American School Board Journal as one of the best books of 2003.

They also collaborated on America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible (Simon & Schuster), which the New York Times Book Review, in its annual end-of-the-year issue, named as one of the notable books of 1997.

They are the editors of a Beyond the Color Line: New Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity. Their lengthy review of William G. Bowen and Derek Bok's much-noticed work, The Shape of the River, appeared in the June 1999 issue of the UCLA Law Review.
Whose Votes Count? Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights (Harvard University Press) won four awards, including the American Bar Association's Certificate of Merit, and the Anisfield-Wolf prize for the best book on race and ethnicity. It was named the best policy studies book of that year by the Policy Studies Organization (an affiliate of the American Political Science Association), and won the Benchmark Book Award from the Center for Judicial Studies. Along with her husband, she also won the 2004 Peter Shaw Memorial Award given by National Association of Scholars.

She is currently completing a book entitled Voting Rights and Wrongs: The Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections, and is working, as well, with her husband on another book with the tentative title of Don’t Call it Segregation: The Myth of Contemporary Apartheid. She (and two co-authors) submitted an amicus brief in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle, challenging the constitutionality of Seattle's racial balancing plan.

Her frequent media appearances have included Fox News Sunday, Good Morning America, and This Week with George Stephanopoulos. For some years, she was a stringer for The Economist, and continues to write for a variety of journals and newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the (London) Times Literary Supplement.

She serves on several boards, and from 1992 to 1997 was a member of the Aspen Institute's Domestic Strategy Group.


A person listed as a contributor has spoken or otherwise participated in Federalist Society events, publications, or multimedia presentations. A person's appearance on this list does not imply any other endorsement or relationship between the person and the Federalist Society. In most cases, the biographical information on a person's "contributor" page is provided directly by the person, and the Federalist Society does not edit or otherwise endorse that information. The Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues. All expressions of opinion by a contributor are those of the contributor.