Joshua Kleinfeld teaches and writes about political, legal, and moral philosophy, criminal law, and criminal procedure. He also practices law in Northwestern's Juvenile Criminal Defense Clinic. He is a full professor with tenure at the Northwestern Pritzker School of the Law and (by courtesy) in Northwestern’s philosophy department. In 2017-18, he was a visiting professor at Harvard and Stanford Law Schools. He is the recipient of the Bator Award, given annually to one American law professor under the age of 40 who has demonstrated "excellence in legal scholarship, a commitment to teaching, a concern for students, and who has made a significant public impact."
In philosophy, Kleinfeld's research focuses on the idea of "embodied ethical life," as developed in the socio-theoretic tradition of Hegel, Weber, and Durkheim. This tradition aims to understand and critique social life by bringing to light the normative ideas implicit in social practices and institutions. In law, this means that the most interesting philosophical concepts are often those reflected or actualized in legal practice – in the law as judges and lawyers think of it and wield it.
In criminal law and procedure, Kleinfeld has developed a theory known as "reconstructivism," which holds that the chief office of criminal law is not to dole out retributive justice, nor to optimize crime and cost control, but to reconstruct a violated normative order in the wake of a crime. This work, which draws on the thought of Hegel, Durkheim, Jean Hampton, and Antony Duff, develops an alternative to retributive and utilitarian theories of criminal law by focusing on the distinctive social function and sense of justice at work in the criminal system.
Kleinfeld is also involved in practical criminal justice reform. In this vein, he defends children accused of homicide in the Northwestern Juvenile Criminal Defense clinic and assists in litigation efforts meant to reform American criminal law through the courts. He has also developed a view of criminal justice reform known as "democratization," which holds that the root of the American criminal justice crisis is a set of bureaucratic attitudes, structures, and incentives divorced from the American public’s concerns and sense of justice, and that the primary solution is to make criminal justice more community-focused and responsive to lay influences. Working with others, he has developed a number of policy proposals meant to reform American criminal justice in a democratic direction.
Kleinfeld holds a JD from Yale Law School, a PhD in philosophy from the Goethe University of Frankfurt (supervised by Axel Honneth, Klaus Günther, and Rainer Forst), and a BA in philosophy from Yale College. He clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; Judge Janice Rogers Brown on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; and President (chief justice) Aharon Barak of the Supreme Court of Israel. He worked as an Associate at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in Frankfurt, Germany, in the area of corporate criminal law. Before law school, he worked as a Senior Research Analyst at the White House’s Council on Bioethics.
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