James W. Ely

Prof. James W. Ely, Jr.

Milton R. Underwood Professor of Law Emeritus and Professor of History Emeritus, Vanderbilt University

James Ely is a renowned legal historian and property rights expert whose career accomplishments were recognized with both the Brigham-Kanner Property Rights Prize and the Owner Counsel of American Crystal Eagle Award in 2006. He is the author of several books that have received widespread critical acclaim from legal scholars and historians, including The Guardian of Every Other Right: A Constitutional History of Property Rights, The Fuller Court: Justices, Rulings and Legacy in which he examines the work of the Supreme Court between 1888 and 1910, and Railroads and American Law in which he systematically explores the way that the rise of the railroads shaped American legal culture. He also served as an editor of both the second edition of the Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court, and the second edition of the Oxford Guide to Supreme Court Decisions. Professor Ely received the Tennessee History Book Award in 2002 for A History of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Between 1987 and 1999, he served as an associate editor of the American Journal of Legal History. Since Professor Ely joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1972, he has been frequently recognized by students as one of the law school's outstanding teachers. He is currently working on a book dealing with the history of the contract clause of the Constitution.

  • Ph.D. and M.A. (History) University of Virginia
  • L.L.B. Harvard University
  • A.B. Princeton University


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Click to play: Environmental Law & Property Rights: Justice Scalia's Property Rights Jurisprudence

Environmental Law & Property Rights: Justice Scalia's Property Rights Jurisprudence

2016 National Lawyers Convention

In his nearly 30 years on the Court, Justice Scalia left a profound mark on...