Nita A. Farahany ’04 to join Duke Law faculty

June 12, 2012Duke Law News

Nita A. Farahany, a scholar at the intersection of law, biosciences, and philosophy, will join the Duke Law faculty as a professor of law this fall. She is a 2004 Duke Law graduate who also received her MA and PhD in philosophy from Duke University.

Farahany is an associate professor of law and associate professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University; at Duke, she will hold a joint appointment at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP). Her research examines the legal, social, and ethical applications of the biosciences, particularly those related to behavioral genetics and neuroscience.

“I use the biosciences as a lens and a tool to understand legal doctrines and normative commitments that we hold in social institutions such as criminal law,” said Farahany, whose recent scholarship focuses on criminal procedure and how it may evolve in light of developments in neuroscience and behavioral genetics. “More broadly, I am interested in bioethics and neuroethics.”

“Professor Farahany is a dynamic scholar who is working at the leading edge of law, philosophy, and science,” said Dean David F. Levi. “As a mark of her extraordinary reach, she is joining both the Law and IGSP faculties. We are delighted to welcome her back to Duke where she was trained and already has many collaborators.”

A member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, Farahany teaches classes and seminars relating to criminal law, criminal procedure, and other subjects at the junction of law and science. In the spring 2013 semester she will teach Genetics and Reproductive Technology.

“The IGSP is thrilled to be partnering with the Law School and to have attracted someone with Nita's accomplishments, interests and energy,” said IGSP Director Huntington Willard, Duke University’s Nanaline H. Duke Professor of Genome Sciences and senior advisor to the vice provost, Office of Undergraduate Education. “She will greatly strengthen our growing efforts to explore issues in the sciences that impact society so deeply.”

Farahany’s recent works include “Searching Secrets,” 160 U. Penn. L. Rev. 1239 (2012) which explores the descriptive potential of intellectual property law as a metaphor to describe current Fourth Amendment search and seizure law and predict how the Fourth Amendment will apply to emerging technology. A companion article, “Incriminating Thoughts,” 64 Stanford Law Review 351 (2012) demonstrates through modern neuroscience applications the need to redefine the taxonomy of evidence subject to the privilege against self-incrimination. She also is the editor of The Impact of Behavioral Sciences on Criminal Law (Oxford University Press), a book of essays from experts in science, law, philosophy, and policy.

Farahany received her AB in genetics, cell, and developmental biology at Dartmouth College in 1998. She received dual JD and MA degrees at Duke in 2004 and received her PhD in philosophy in 2006; her dissertation was entitled “Rediscovering Criminal Responsibility through Behavioral Genetics.” She obtained an ALM in biology from Harvard University in 2007. Farahany clerked for Judge Judith W. Rogers of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2004-2005, after which she joined the Vanderbilt University faculty as a Vanderbilt Fellow and instructor in law. She became an assistant professor in 2006. In 2011 Farahany taught at Stanford Law School as a visiting associate professor of law and the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights.

Farahany said she looks forward to continuing her academic career at Duke, where she has maintained close connections with faculty scholars in philosophy and law, such as Professor James Coleman Jr., with whom she first worked as a research assistant during her student days.

“Both when I was a graduate student and now, Duke is at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary research,” said Farahany. “Duke enabled me, as a graduate student, to combine my interests in law, philosophy, and the biosciences, which was made possible by the many individuals across campus who share an interest in those fields, and who believe in fostering collaborations across disciplines. The collaborative spirit at Duke has grown even stronger since I graduated. And Duke remains a leader in the social, ethical, and legal implications of the biosciences.”

For his part, Coleman is delighted about her faculty appointment.

“It is exciting to have Nita back at Duke,” he said. “From her first day at law school, as a summer starter, Nita sought insight into not just the what of law, but also the how and why. In her last year at Duke she hosted a symposium on genetics and criminal law and never looked back. At Vanderbilt, she became one of the most prominent young scholars thinking about the impact of behavioral genetics and neuroscience on criminal law and criminal procedure, an important emerging field in which she is a pioneer. Her creativity is infectious.”

Farahany, Coleman, and Neil Vidmar, the Russell Robinson III Professor of Law and Psychology, are planning to build on Farahany’s empirical analysis of the use of neuroscience and behavioral genetics in the criminal context with a pilot study of North Carolina prosecutors’, judges’, and defense attorneys’ experiences and attitudes towards neuroscience and behavioral genetics.

“Nita’s projects and expertise bring a lot of substance to the Law School,” said Vidmar. “She is in a unique position because she understands the science and understands where the science fits into law.”
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