Daryl Levinson delivered the inaugural David Boies Professorship of Law lecture on January 25. Levinson returned to NYU Law last fall, after five years at Harvard Law School, to become the first to hold the professorship. Boies (LL.M. ’67) is chairman of Boies, Schiller and Flexner, and is one of the nation’s most renowned litigators. In addition to handling matters for major corporate clients, Boies has played a central role in numerous high-profile public cases. From 1998 to 2000, for example, he served as Special Trial Counsel for the United States Department of Justice in its antitrust suit against Microsoft. In 2000, he served as lead counsel for Al Gore in litigation to resolve that year’s presidential election. And he is currently representing plaintiffs suing to overturn California’s ban on gay marriage.
Levinson’s lecture, “How Constitutions Work (When They Work),” was based on his article in the current Harvard Law Review. In remarks preceding his address, Levinson noted that he and Boies first crossed paths years ago, when Levinson was a summer associate at the law firm where Boies was then a partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Boies had stressed the importance of trial lawyers being able to explain complex subjects for non-experts. Levinson said that is “advice I try to remind myself of every time I teach a class or write an article.” That was evident in his lecture, which was on what he calls “the positive puzzle of constitutionalism” – explaining “the willingness and ability of powerful political actors to make sustainable commitments to abide by and uphold constitutional rules even when these rules stand in the way of their immediate interests.” While he cited the likes of James Madison and Thomas Hobbes, he also sprinkled in references to Henny Youngman. And while he discussed the rise of the administrative state and the power of judicial review, he also spoke about the New York City subway, bad marriages, and Microsoft’s operating system. Like many imperfect but deeply rooted things, he noted, constitutions “have a tendency to stick around when they’re in place.”
Published January 28, 2011