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Who Are the Most Important Law Professors in America?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 06, 2016 1:56 PM

Just in time for back to school, the legal world got a brand new ranking. And no, it's not U.S. News reselling the same list of the top 14 law schools in America again (and again, and again). A new study by researchers at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, looks at the influence legal scholars have on the profession, by tallying how often their works are cited in court opinions. Consider it a ranking of the most important law professors in the nation.

Some of the results are surprising. Let's take a look.

Maybe Not Entirely Useless...

Legal scholarship has not always been held in the greatest esteem by practitioners, as the study, which comes to us via the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, notes. The researchers open their paper by quoting Chief Justice Roberts:

What the academy is doing, as far as I can tell, is largely of no use or interest to people who actually practice law ... Pick up a copy of any law review that you see and the first article is likely to be ... the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria...

But courts do rely on legal scholarship -- even the Chief Justice has been known to cite a law review article, from time to time. And those citations can help us measure the impact of legal scholars, "a certain subset" of which, the study notes, "are both noticed and cited by the judiciary as well as their peers."

See, eg., the SCOTUS Top Ten

The researchers looked at citations in the Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and state high courts to get their rankings. Several rankings, in fact, depending on whether you're concerned with law review citations, state court citations, total citations, relative scholarly impact, or more. But since this is a Supreme Court focused-blog, we'll focus on the academics cited most by the Court, between 2005 and 2014. Here are the researchers' top 10, which you'll notice is actually a top 15, given the six-way ties for fourth and tenth place.:

1. Cass Sunstein, Harvard Law School, 9 Supreme Court cites
2. Michael W. McConnell, Stanford, 7
3. Adrian Vermeule, Harvard, 6
4. John F. Manning, Harvard, 5
4. Garrett L. Brandon, University of Virginia, 5
4. Akhil R. Amar, Yale, 5
4. Saikrishna Prakash, University of Virginia, 5
4. Curtis A. Bradley, Duke, 5
4. Mark A. Lemley, Stanford, 4
10. Richard H. Fallon, Harvard, 4
10. Samuel Issacharoff, NYU, 4
10. Jonathan R. Macey, Yale, 4
10. Steven G. Calabresi, Northwestern, 4
10. Robert E. Scott, Columbia, 4
10. Reva B. Siegel, Yale, 4

We're not surprised to see Cass Sunstein at the top of the list. But Eugene Volokh, who ranks number one in circuit court citations, gets no love from the Supreme Court, while several SCOTUS-favored scholars like Bradley and Vermeule, appear to be largely overlooked by state and lower courts. I guess Bradley's unique take on international law doesn't go as far in the Supreme Court of Kansas, while the Third Circuit has yet to be turned on to Vermeule's "Law and the Limits of Reason."

Meanwhile, we're still trying to find that article on the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria. We're sure it'll be useful in some court some day.

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