Norman DorsenDuring his 50 years at the NYU School of Law, Norman Dorsen, Frederick I. and Grace A. Stokes Professor of Law, has played a key role in the Law School’s transformation into a top educational institution. Still a co-director of the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program, which he came to NYU Law in 1961 to lead, Dorsen also serves as counselor to John Sexton, president of NYU and former dean of the Law School. Dorsen was the founding director of the Hauser Global Law School Program, the founding editorial director of the International Journal of Constitutional Law, and the founding president of the Society of American Law Teachers.

Those accomplishments alone would constitute a highly admirable career, but Dorsen has also been active outside NYU Law. He was both president and general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, and has appeared six times before the Supreme Court. Dorsen argued the first abortion rights appeal heard by the Court, and served as counsel of record in Roe v. Wade, whose brief he helped write. He wrote amicus briefs for other high-profile cases including Gideon v. Wainwright and the Pentagon Papers and Nixon tapes cases.

Dorsen’s interest in civil liberties was cemented by his experience in the Secretary of the Army’s office of the general counsel, where he worked against Senator Joseph McCarthy in the notorious Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. In the 1970s, Dorsen chaired a Review Panel for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that made extensive recommendations on the procedures for new drug regulation. Later, in the 1990s, he chaired a U.S. Treasury Citizens Investigation of alleged legal violations by law enforcement officers throughout the government.

In a podcast interview with Atticus Gannaway, the Law School magazine’s senior writer, Dorsen recalled highlights of his legal career and his 50 years on the NYU Law faculty, including the school’s decades-long efforts to continuously improve its institutional quality: “Having a process that was open, having the ability to debate the issues—as the faculty improved, the product was much stronger and the Law School, in turn, became a better law school.”

Dorsen may be the only American law professor who has taught consecutively for 50 years at a single school. “When you’re that person, first of all, you count your blessings,” he said. “Second, especially since the institution has prospered so well, you are able to take great satisfaction from all the work that you and many others have done.” 

Posted on April 18, 2011