PUBLISHED:March 16, 2020

Sachs wins Federalist Society’s 2020 Story Award


Sachs is the third member of the Duke Law faculty to receive the group's award, which annually recognizes a young academic.

Professor Stephen Sachs Professor Stephen Sachs

Professor Stephen E. Sachs has won the Federalist Society’s 2020 Joseph Story Award, which recognizes a young academic who has demonstrated excellence in legal scholarship, a commitment to teaching, a concern for students, and who has made a significant public impact in a manner that advances the rule of law in a free society, the group announced March 14.

“Professor Sachs is a shining example of a professor whose scholarly abilities allow him to challenge pervading academic orthodoxy in an insightful and compelling manner,” said Brendan Anderson, a student at the University of Chicago Law School and the 2020 Joseph Story Award Chair. “One student said that Professor Sachs changed his views from being ardently anti-originalist to being more accepting of originalism. In a world where polarization has made the idea of people changing their minds seem almost naïve, stories like this one show that when arguments are taken seriously and given their most persuasive case by people like Professor Sachs, real dialogue and influence is possible.”

Sachs is a scholar of civil procedure, constitutional law, Anglo-American legal history, and conflict of laws. His research spans a variety of substantive topics, focusing on the history of procedure and private law and its implications for current disputes. His research interests include federal jurisdiction, constitutional interpretation, sovereign immunity, and the legal status of corporations. At Duke, he teaches Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, and seminars on constitutional law.

“I wanted to become a lawyer, partly from my dad’s example, but also because, as a lawyer, you could go into a library, do some research, make an argument -- and the hope is, at the end of it, the world would be different,” Sachs said in a video accepting the award. “This is the idea that Hamilton described in the very first paragraph of The Federalist No. 1 -- that societies might be capable of ‘establishing good government from reflection and choice,’ and not ‘forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.’”

Sachs joined the Duke Law faculty in 2011 after practicing in the litigation group of Mayer Brown in Washington, D.C. He clerked for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. during the 2009-2010 Supreme Court term and for Judge Stephen F. Williams on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2007-2008.

Sachs received his A.B. summa cum laude in history from Harvard University in 2002, graduating first in his class and winning the Sophia Freund Prize. He was a Rhodes Scholar, graduating from Oxford University in 2004 with a first-class BA (Hons) degree in politics, philosophy, and economics. He received his J.D. in 2007 from Yale Law School, where he was executive editor of the Yale Law Journal and served both as executive editor and articles editor of the Yale Law & Policy Review.

The Story Award is customarily presented in person at the Federalist Society’s student symposium, but the symposium was held virtually this year. Video and text of Sachs’ acceptance remarks can be viewed on the Federalist Society’s website.  

The award is named for Justice Joseph Story, who was appointed to the Supreme Court at the age of 32, served as the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard, and wrote the Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. It is the successor to the Paul M. Bator Award, established in 1989 in memory of Professor Bator for similar purposes.

Past recipients of the Bator Award include Duke Law professors Nita Farahany (2013) and Ernest Young (2005).