Scholar of constitutional theory and history has long record of public service
"I am simply delighted to be home. Duke Law School has a commitment — one that is unparalleled in contemporary legal education — to provide an outstanding professional education in the context of one of the leading centers of academic legal research and writing in the country."
— Professor Jeff Powell
Jeff Powell most recently served 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.
“Jeff Powell is one of the leading thinkers and writers in constitutional theory and history,” said Dean David F. Levi. “His work is careful, original, and impressive in its reach and volume. He has written numerous books and articles of great interest not just to law professors but to a large audience outside of the law schools as well. He is also a beloved teacher. Add to this that he is a skilled advocate and experienced, first-rate government lawyer, and one gets a sense of just how multifaceted and talented Jeff is. It is wonderful to have him back home at Duke.”
Over more than two decades, Powell has served in a variety of positions in federal and state government. In addition to his recent tenure as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which provides legal advice to the president, the attorney general, and other high-level executive branch officials, 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. In much of his earlier civic service, he worked alongside Walter Dellinger III, the Douglas B. Maggs Professor Emeritus of Law, who headed OLC in the early 1990s and served as acting solicitor general during the 1996-1997 term of the Supreme Court.
Powell has briefed and argued cases in both federal and state courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. Last year he and Dellinger wrote the amicus brief that the congressional Democratic leadership filed in the U.S. courts of appeals considering the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Described by the late Professor David P. Currie of the University of Chicago as “one of our foremost scholars of constitutional history” and “surely our leading academic expert on executive interpretation of the Constitution,” Powell is a prolific scholar; he has published many influential articles, essays, and books examining the moral tradition of American constitutionalism, the powers of the executive branch, and legislative and judicial decision-making, among other subjects.
His book No Law: Intellectual Property in the Image of An Absolute First Amendment (Stanford University Press, 2009), which he coauthored with David Lange, the Melvin S. Shimm Professor of Law, was hailed as a “thorough rethinking” of the First Amendment as an absolute prohibition of government interference in expression and speech.
One of Powell’s forthcoming works is a book entitled The Constitution and the Commander in Chief, which argues that our constitutional tradition provides principled guidelines for the lawyers who advise the president on legal issues involving national security. Another project examines how three great legal figures of the early Republic — Chief Justice John Marshall, his colleague Justice Joseph Story, and their mutual friend Attorney General William Wirt — understood the task of resolving difficult issues in public law; he hopes to illuminate the role of distinctively legal reasoning in their decisions.
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. “The Contracts Experience,” a video teaching tool he developed in 2002 (in collaboration with Duke Law Professor John Weistart and Georgetown Law Professor Girardeau A. Spann) received a Telly Award and an Aegis Award of Excellence. Powell currently serves as series editor of the Carolina Academic Press Legal History Series.
“I am simply delighted to be home,” Powell said. “Duke Law School has a commitment — one that is unparalleled in contemporary legal education — to provide an outstanding professional education in the context of one of the leading centers of academic legal research and writing in the country. I am excited at the prospect of being a contributor, once again, to the Duke vision of law as a form of public service.”