American Studies
American Studies

William Forbath

Affiliate Faculty

Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law/Professor, School of Law, History
William Forbath



social and economic rights in the courts, social movements in Southern Hemisphere, identity politics in the Progressive Era


Professor Forbath came to Texas in 1997 after more than a decade on the faculties of law and history at UCLA. Among the nation's leading legal and constitutional historians, he is the author of Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement (Harvard, 1991), the forthcoming The Constitution of Opportunity (Harvard,2015)(with Joseph Fishkin) and dozens of articles, book chapters, and essays on legal and constitutional history and theory. His scholarly work appears in Yale Law Journal, Harvard Law Review, Stanford Law Review, Law and Social Inquiry, and the Journal of American History; his journalism at and in the New York Times, American Prospect and the Nation. His current research concerns social and economic rights in the courts and social movements of the Southern Hemisphere, and Jews, law and identity politics in the Progressive Era. Professor Forbath visited at Columbia Law School in 2001-02 and at Harvard Law School in 2008-09. He is on the Editorial Boards of Law & History, Law & Social Inquiry: Journal of the American Bar Foundation, and other journals, and on the Board of Directors of the American Society for Legal History, Texas Low-Income Housing Information Services, and other public interest organizations.

Here is a sampling of Forbath's recent work on Social and Economic Rights in the American Grain in THE CONSTITUTION IN 2020(Jack M. Balkin & Reva B. Siegel eds.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). Here is an opinion piece he wrote for the Spring 2012 issue of the journal Dissent on Workers' Rights and the Distributive Constitution. And here is a draft of his new work-in-progress on “Jews, Law and Identity Politics”.


LAW 397S • Smnr: Colloq On Const Courts

29877 • Spring 2012
Meets M 3:30PM-5:30PM TNH 3.126
(also listed as GOV 384N, HIS 392, LAS 381)

This will be an interdisciplinary course examining and comparing the work of important constitutional courts in several nations around the globe.  Over the course of the semester, we will meet with six distinguished judges from six such courts and discuss their constitutional jurisprudence and their roles in the politics and government of their nations.  The course will be open to second- and third- year law students and to graduate students in the humanities and social sciences, with the permission of the instructors.  It will be co-taught by Professor William Forbath of the School of Law and Professor John Ferejohn, who will be visiting from the NYU School of Law and Department of Politics.During the semester, six leading judges (and former judges) will present important opinions from their respective courts, which will provide the principal texts of the course.  Students will spend two weeks with each set of opinions.  In the first week, students will meet with Professors Ferejohn and Forbath in a traditional seminar format to discuss the opinions.  In the second week, the judge will be present, and the students will be joined by law, history and other humanities and social science faculty members.  Students will thus have the opportunity both to engage in their own critical discussion, and to observe and participate in an interdisciplinary conversation with faculty members.  Written coursework will consist of short, critical responses or commentaries on each of the six sets of opinions that will be presented.  Students also will expand one of these short papers into a longer essay to be submitted at the end of the term.The current line-up of visiting judges includes:  Susanne Baer, Justice of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany (Germany); Antonio Benjamin, Supreme Court Justice of Brazil (Brazil); Manuel José-Cepeda Espinosa, former Justice on the Constitutional Court of Colombia (Columbia); José Ramón Cossio Díaz, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (Mexico); Dennis Davis, Judge President (Chief Judge) of the Competition Appeal Court of South Africa (South Africa); Pedro Cruz Villalón, Advocate General at the Justice of the European Union (Spain).

HIS 381 • Colloq On Law/Hist/Humanities

39923 • Spring 2007
Meets M 3:30PM-5:30PM TNH 3.127

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race and the Criminal Justice System

 This course examines the way in which racial bias, in both American policy and politics, has impacted the relationship between African Americans and the justice system from the convict lease era in slavery's aftermath to the crisis of mass incarceration and the age of Black Lives Matter.

We will pay particular attention to the impact of federal anti-crime policy on sentencing, mandatory minimums, DOJ Byrne Grants, the militarization of local law enforcement agencies, the drug war, juvenile justice, and prisoner rehabilitation and rights since The Great Society.

Students will be evaluated based on three criteria: 1) Weekly three paragraph critical analysis of the readings. 2)Final 20 page critical historical and policy analysis on a specific aspect of criminal justice reform (e.g. ending money bail system for criminal defendants charged with low level warrants) 3) Class participation, including group presentation.

Reading: We will read one book or article per week. 

 Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of the graduate adviser. 


May be repeated for credit when the topics vary.


Profile Pages

External Links