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Two Berkeley Law Scholars Selected for Prestigious Forum

Karen Tani
Karen Tani

By Leslie A. Gordon

Scholarly papers by faculty members Bertrall Ross and Karen Tani have been selected for presentation at the 15th session of the coveted Harvard/Stanford/Yale Junior Faculty Forum. Only 12 junior professors are chosen each year by a jury of senior scholars after anonymous submission and blind review.

This year’s selected papers will presented at Stanford Law School on June 27 and 28, where two senior academics will provide insight and commentary on the works. The forum’s objective is to encourage young scholars (specifically, those with seven or fewer years in teaching) by providing experience in scholarly exchange and to increase community among legal scholars generally.

“I’m delighted to be participating in the forum,” said Assistant Professor Tani, who has been teaching Legal History, Torts and Social Welfare Law for three years. “I’m looking forward to receiving feedback on my paper and to engaging in a wide-ranging scholarly conversation.”

Tani’s paper, Administrative Equal Protection: Cooperative Federalism in the Shadow of the Fourteenth Amendment, centers on administrative constitutionalism, a relatively new field of legal scholarship that examines administrative agencies (rather than courts) interpreting the Constitution. Tani’s paper explores the concept in relation to grants-in-aid to states for public welfare programs and federal administrators' interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Documenting a connection between what she calls "administrative equal protection" and Supreme Court doctrine, Tani traced the administrative interpretation from federal administrators to outside advocates and from outside advocates to the welfare rights litigation of the late 1960s.

“I hope this paper will encourage more scholars to consider the intersection of constitutional interpretation, the administrative state, and federalism,” added Tani, who’s now writing States of Dependency: Welfare, Rights, and American Governance, 1935-1965, a book that examines legal contests over welfare benefits and administration in the years between the New Deal and the welfare rights movement.

The role of courts

Assistant Professor Ross’s paper, The State as Witness: Credibility and the Democratic Process Courts, examines whether the Court should limit its assessment of the credibility of the record to contexts where there is actual evidence of democratic malfunction. Forthcoming in the November issue of NYU Law Review, the paper follows up on Ross’s earlier work exploring the role of the courts in protecting marginalized groups.

Bertrall Ross
Bertrall Ross

In his fourth year at Berkeley Law, Ross teaches Constitutional Law, Legislation and the Law of Democracy. His research is driven by what he calls a normative concern about democratic responsiveness. He takes a methodological approach that integrates political theory and empirical social science into legal doctrine, the institutional role of the courts and democratic design.

This is the second time Ross’s scholarship has been selected by the prestigious faculty forum. His earlier paper, The Representative Equality Principle: Disaggregating the Equal Protection Intent Standard (which argued that vote dilution cases, along with reapportionment cases, constitute a distinct form of judicial review that is a necessary precursor to representation-reinforcing judicial review) was chosen by the forum two years ago. That year, no two scholars from the same institution were selected.

“Anecdotally, it’s unusual. It’s a competitive process,” Ross said. That he and Tani were both selected this year “reflects well on Berkeley Law.”

Ross’s future research plans include an empirical study of how courts evaluate which groups have political power and which are entitled to special protection. But for now, he’s basking in the recent honor. “As junior professors—in a field built on constructive criticism of scholarship—we often don’t receive feedback. So selection by the Junior Forum is an indicator you’re doing something right. It’s gratifying and humbling; and a great honor.”