Laurence Tribe

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Laurence Tribe
Larry Tribe in 2019.png
Tribe in 2019
Born (1941-10-10) October 10, 1941 (age 79)
Awards American Philosophical Society’s Henry M. Phillips Prize in Jurisprudence (2013) [1]
Academic background
Alma mater Harvard University (AB, JD)
Academic work
Notable students Barack Obama [2]
Ted Cruz
John Roberts [3]
Elena Kagan [4]
Kathleen Sullivan [2]

Laurence Henry Tribe (born October 10, 1941) is an American legal scholar who is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at the Harvard Law School of Harvard University.


Tribe is a constitutional law scholar [5] [6] and co-founder of the American Constitution Society. He is the author of American Constitutional Law (1978), a major treatise in that field, and has argued before the United States Supreme Court 36 times. [7]

Personal life and education

Tribe was born in 1941 in Shanghai, which was then part of the Republic of China but had been taken over by the Empire of Japan in 1937 following the Battle of Shanghai. He was the son of Paulina (née Diatlovitsky) and George Israel Tribe. [8] His family is Jewish. His father was from Poland and his mother was born in Harbin, to immigrants from Eastern Europe. [9] [10] [11] Tribe spent his early years in the French Concession of Shanghai before his family immigrated to the United States when he was six years old. [9] [12] His family settled in San Francisco, and he attended Abraham Lincoln High School.

After graduating from high school in 1958 at age 16, Tribe went to Harvard University, where he majored in mathematics and was a member of the Harvard Debate Team that won the intercollegiate National Debate Tournament in 1961. [13] He graduated from Harvard in 1962 with an A.B. summa cum laude .

Tribe then received a National Science Foundation fellowship to pursue doctoral studies in mathematics at Harvard, but dropped out after one year. [12] He decided to attend the Harvard Law School instead, where he was a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. He graduated from Harvard Law in 1966 with a Juris Doctor magna cum laude.

Tribe married Carolyn Ricarda Kreye in 1964. They divorced in 2008. Their two children, Mark and Kerry, are visual artists. [14] [15]

On May 22, 2013, he was presented with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Columbia University during its Class of 2013 commencement. [16]


After graduating from law school, Tribe clerked for Justice Mathew Tobriner of the Supreme Court of California from 1966 to 1967, then for Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1967 to 1968. He then joined the Harvard Law School faculty as an assistant professor, receiving tenure in 1972. Among his law students and research assistants while on the faculty at Harvard have been President Barack Obama (a research assistant for over two years), [17] Chief Justice John Roberts, [18] US Senator Ted Cruz, [18] Former D.C. Circuit Chief Judge and Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland, [18] and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. [19] Other notable students of Tribe were U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee and lead manager for the first Impeachment of Donald Trump, [20] and Jamie Raskin, lead manager for the second Donald Trump impeachment. [21]

In 1978, Tribe published the first version of what has become one of the core texts on its subject, American Constitutional Law. It has since been updated and expanded a number of times. [22]

In 1983 Tribe represented Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon in the appeal of his federal conviction on income tax charges. [11]

Tribe represented the restaurant Grendel's Den in the case Larkin v Grendel's Den in which the restaurant challenged a Massachusetts law which allowed religious establishments to prohibit liquor sales in neighboring properties. The case reached the United States Supreme Court in 1982 where the court overturned the law as violating of the separation of church and state. [23] The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well criticizes the opening of his brief as a "thicket of confusing citations and unnecessary definitions" stating that it would have been "measurably strengthened" if he had used the "more lively imagery" that he had used in a footnote later in the document. [24]

In the 1985 National Gay Task Force v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, Tribe represented the National Gay Task Force who had won an Appeals Court ruling against an Oklahoma law that would have allowed schools to fire teachers who were attracted to people of the same sex or spoke in favor of civil rights for LGBT people. The Supreme Court deadlocked which left the Appeals Court's favorable ruling in place, declaring the law would have violated the First Amendment. [25]

The Supreme Court ruled against Tribe's client in Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986 and held that a Georgia state law criminalizing sodomy, as applied to consensual acts between persons of the same sex, did not violate fundamental liberties under the principle of substantive due process. However, in 2003 the Supreme Court overruled Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas , a case for which Tribe wrote the ACLU's amicus curiae brief supporting Lawrence, who was represented by Lambda Legal. [25]

Tribe in 1987 Larry Tribe Testifying.png
Tribe in 1987

Tribe testified at length during the Senate confirmation hearings in 1987 about the Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination, arguing that Bork's stand on the limitation of rights in the Constitution would be unique in the history of the Court. [26] His participation in the hearings raised his profile outside of the legal realm and he became a target of right-wing critics. [26] His phone was later found to have been wiretapped, but it was never discovered who had placed the device or why. [26]

Tribe's 1990 book Abortion: Clash of Absolutes, was called "informative, lucidly written and cogently reasoned" in a review in the Journal of the American Bar Association. [5]

In 1992, Tribe reargued Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Liggett tobacco company. [27]

Tribe was part of Al Gore's legal team regarding the results of the 2000 United States presidential election. Due to the close nature of the vote count, recounts had been initiated in Florida, and the recounts had been challenged in court. Tribe argued the initial case in Federal Court in Miami in which they successfully argued that the court should not stop the recount of the votes which was taking place and scheduled to take place in certain counties. [28] David Boies argued for the Gore team in a related matter in the Florida State Courts regarding the dates that Secretary of State of Florida Katherine Harris would accept recounts. [28] When the original Federal case, Bush v. Gore , was appealed, Gore and his advisers decided at the last minute to have Boies instead of Tribe argue the case at the Supreme Court. [28] The court determined that recounts of votes should cease and that accordingly George W. Bush had been elected President.

Since the mid-1990s, Tribe has represented a number of corporations advocating for their free speech rights and constitutional personhood. [29] Tribe represented General Electric in its defense against its liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act ("Superfund"), in which GE and Tribe unsuccessfully argued that the act unconstitutionally violated General Electric's due process rights. [29] [30]

Tribe testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006 Larry Tribe.png
Tribe testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006

In 2014, Tribe was retained to represent Peabody Energy in a suit against the Environmental Protection Agency. Tribe argued that EPA's use of the Clean Air Act to implement its Clean Power Plan was unconstitutional. [31] Tribe's legal analysis has been criticized by other legal commentators, including fellow Harvard Law School professors Richard J. Lazarus and Jody Freeman, who described his conclusion as "wholly without merit". [32] [33] His advocacy for corporations like Peabody has been criticized by some legal experts. [29]

On 25 September 2020, Tribe was named as one of the 25 members of the "Real Facebook Oversight Board", an independent monitoring group over Facebook. [34]

Political involvement

Tribe is one of the co-founders of the liberal American Constitution Society, the law and policy organization formed to counter the conservative Federalist Society, and is one of a number of scholars at Harvard Law School who have expressed their support for animal rights. [35]

Tribe served as a judicial adviser to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. [2] [36] In February 2010, he was named "Senior Counselor for Access to Justice" in the Department of Justice. [7] [37] He resigned eight months later, citing health reasons. [38]

In December 2016, Tribe and notable lawyers Lawrence Lessig and Andrew Dhuey established The Electors Trust under the aegis of Equal Citizens to provide pro bono legal counsel as well as a secure communications platform for those of the 538 members of the United States Electoral College who were considering a vote of conscience against Donald Trump in the presidential election. [39]

After the dismissal of James Comey in May 2017, Tribe wrote: "The time has come for Congress to launch an impeachment investigation of President Trump for obstruction of justice." Tribe argued that Trump's conduct rose to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that are impeachable offenses under the Constitution. [40] He added: "It will require serious commitment to constitutional principle, and courageous willingness to put devotion to the national interest above self-interest and party loyalty, for a Congress of the president's own party to initiate an impeachment inquiry." [40]

Tribe is on the board of the Renew Democracy Initiative, an American political organization founded in 2017 to promote and defend liberal democracy in the U.S. and abroad. [41]

In 2004, Tribe acknowledged having improperly borrowed without attribution several phrases and a sentence in his 1985 book, God Save this Honorable Court, from a 1974 book by Henry Abraham. [42] [43] After an investigation, Tribe was reprimanded by Harvard for "a significant lapse in proper academic practice," but the investigation concluded that Tribe did not intend to plagiarize. [44]

Tribe has stirred controversy due to his promotion of claims about President Trump's fitness for office. [45] [46] Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan harshly criticized Tribe, saying that he "has become an important vector of misinformation and conspiracy theories on Twitter." [45] According to McKay Coppins of The Atlantic, Tribe has been "an especially active booster" of the Palmer Report, "a liberal blog known for peddling conspiracy theories". [47] Tribe removed the posted tweets following the Palmer Report and contests the accuracy of the story of controversy. [45] [46] [47]


The following is a list of cases Tribe has argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, as of the end of 2005:

Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia 448 U.S. 555 1981
Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness 452 U.S. 640 1981
Crawford v. Board of Education 458 U.S. 527 1982
Larkin v. Grendel’s Den 459 U.S. 116 1982
White v. Massachusetts Council 460 U.S. 204 1983
Pacific Gas & Electric v. California 461 U.S. 190 1983
Hawaii Housing Auth. v. Midkiff 467 U.S. 229 1984
Northeast Bancorp v. Fed. Reserve 472 U.S. 159 1985
National Gay Task Force v. Board of Education 470 U.S. 159 1985
Fisher v. City of Berkeley 475 U.S. 260 1986
Bowers v. Hardwick 478 U.S. 186 1986
Pennzoil v. Texaco 481 U.S. 1 1986
Schweiker v. Chilicky 487 U.S. 412 1988
Granfinanciera v. Nordberg 492 U.S. 33 1989
Sable Communications v. FCC 492 U.S. 115 1989
Adams Fruit v. Barrett 494 U.S. 638 1990
Rust v. Sullivan 500 U.S. 173 1991
Cipollone v. Liggett 505 U.S. 504 1992
TXO v. Alliance Resources 509 U.S. 443 1993
Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg 512 U.S. 415 1994
U.S. v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone 516 U.S. 415 1996
Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party 520 U.S. 351 1997
Vacco v. Quill 521 U.S. 793 1997
Amchem Products v. Windsor 521 U.S. 591 1997
Baker v. General Motors 522 U.S. 222 1998
AT&T v. Iowa Utilities Board 525 U.S. 366 1999
Ortiz v. Fibreboard 527 U.S. 815 1999
Bush v. Gore I 531 U.S. 70 2000
New York Times Co. v. Tasini 533 U.S. 438 2001
U.S. v. United Foods 533 U.S. 405 2001
FCC v. NextWave 537 U.S. 293 2002
State Farm v. Campbell 538 U.S. 408 2003
Nike v. Kasky 539 U.S. 654 2003
Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association 544 U.S. 550 2005

Tribe has argued 26 cases in the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals:[ citation needed ]

Worldwide Church of God v. California 623 F.2d 613 [ permanent dead link ]9th1980
Grendel's Den v. Goodwin 662 F.2d 102 1st1981
Pacific Legal Foundation v. State Energy Resources 659 F.2d 903 [ permanent dead link ]9th1981
United States v. Sun Myung Moon 718 F.2d 12102nd1983
Romany v. Colegio de Abogados742 F.2d 321st1984
Westmoreland v. CBS752 F.2d 162nd1984
Colombrito v. Kelly 764 F.2d 122 2nd1985
Texaco v. Pennzoil 784 F.2d 1133 2nd1986
U.S. v. Bank of New England 821 F.2d 844 1st1987
U.S. v. Gallo 859 F.2d 1078 2nd1988
U.S. v. GAF Corporation884 F.2d 6702nd1989
U.S. v. Western Electric Company900 F.2d 283D.C.1999
Fineman v. Armstrong World Industries980 F.2d 171D.C.1992
U.S. v. Western Electric Company993 F.2d 1572D.C.1993
Lightning Lube v. Witco Corporation4 F.3d 11533rd1993
Hopkins v. Dow Corning Corporation33 F.3d 11169th1994
Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone v. U.S.42 F.3d 1814th1994
Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc. 83 F.3d 610 3rd1996
BellSouth Corp. v. F.C.C. 144 F.3d 58 D.C.1998
SBC Communications v. F.C.C. 154 F.3d 226 5th1998
City of Dallas v. F.C.C. F.3d 341 5th1999
U.S. West v. Tristani "182 F.3d 1202" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 20, 2008. (90.5 KB)10th1999
U.S. West v. F.C.C. "182 F.3d 1224" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 20, 2008. (220 KB)10th1999
Southwest Voter Registration v. Shelley "344 F.3d 914" (PDF). (23.0 KB)9th2003
Pacific Gas and Elec. v. California "350 F.3d 932" (PDF). (144 KB)9th2003
General Electric v. E.P.A. "360 F.3d 188" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 27, 2007. (49.8 KB)D.C.2004



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