H. Jefferson Powell
Professor of Law

H. Jefferson Powell returned to the Duke Law faculty in May 2012 after serving as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice and as a professor at George Washington University Law School. He previously served on the Duke Law faculty from 1989 to 2010.

Powell has served in a variety of positions in federal and state government during his career. In addition to his recent tenure as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the president, the attorney general and other executive branch officers, he served in the U.S. Department of Justice in various capacities from 1993 to 2000, and in 1996, he was the principal deputy solicitor general. He has briefed and argued cases in both federal and state courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. In the early 1990s, he was special counsel to the attorney general of North Carolina.

Powell's academic career has included visiting positions at Columbia, Yale and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he served as a professor of law at the University of Iowa prior to joining the Duke Law faculty. His scholarship has addressed the history and ethical implications of American constitutionalism, the powers of the executive branch, and the role of the Constitution in legislative and judicial decision-making, among other subjects. His recent books include Targeting Americans: The Constitutionality of the U.S. Drone War (2016); The President as Commander in Chief:  An Essay in Constitutional Vision (2014), Constitutional Conscience: The Moral Dimension of Judicial Decision (2008) and No Law: Intellectual Property in the Image of an Absolute First Amendment (2009), which he co-authored with Duke Law Professor David Lange.

Powell holds a bachelor’s degree from St. David’s University College (now Trinity St. David) of the University of Wales; a master’s degree and PhD from Duke University; and a Master’s of Divinity and JD from Yale University. He was a law clerk to Judge Sam J. Ervin III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. He has received numerous awards and honors including, in 2002, Duke University’s Scholar/Teacher Award. Powell currently serves as series editor of the Carolina Academic Press Legal History Series.


H. Jefferson Powell portrait

Recent Courses