Erwin Chemerinsky, UC Irvine’s lauded, controversial and founding law school dean, is leaving to assume the same position at UC Berkeley’s School of Law.
His last day on the Southern California campus, which began its first law school classes in the fall of 2009, is June 30 so he can start at Berkeley Law (a.k.a. Boalt Hall) on July 1. Professor L. Song Richardson will serve as UCI Law’s interim dean.
Chemerinsky is regarded as a keen expert on the First Amendment, with his writings turning up everywhere from his six books to Los Angeles Times op-ed pages and legal briefs filed in U.S. Supreme Court cases. He provided TV commentary during the O.J. Simpson trial, defended Guantanamo Bay detainees and sued President Trump.
“A change in leadership is a good thing for the Law School,” Chemerinsky writes in an email to the law school community. “I am deeply grateful to all who have been part of this amazing adventure.”
After teaching law at USC, DePaul and Duke University, Chemerinsky began his amazing adventure in Irvine with the employment contract he signed in 2007 being rescinded by then-UCI Chancellor Michael Drake, whose rationale was the scholar’s commentaries had been “polarizing.”
Many believed Drake was following marching orders from billionaire developer and steadfast GOP contributor Don Bren, whose Irvine Co. provided the land for the university and heavily donated to it. The chancellor maintained the decision was his, and after a couple weeks of media, political and law community pressure, Drake reversed himself and announced Chemerinsky was in as UCI Law’s first dean.
While in Irvine, Chemerinsky struck up a friendship with his polar opposite constitutional law scholar, Chapman University’s John Eastman. Both routinely sat side-by-side at seminars where they would present a clash of opinions, albeit with respect for one another.
It’ll be interesting to see if John Yoo will also snuggle up to Chemerinsky, who once wrote that the current Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at Berkeley should be prosecuted for having authored the torture memo for his then-boss, President George W. Bush.
Chemerinsky writes that he leaves the school “in great shape,” stating “new faculty hires [and] applications for the Class of 2020 are up 15 percent” over last year.
I can say personally from the times I’ve interviewed him by phone, email and in person (or, better yet, attended or watched online his live seminars), he is a remarkable wit and educator. When it comes to constitutional law, dude’s got mad skills. Those Berkeley radicals are lucky to have him.