Virtual Constitutional Law and Economics Workshop builds a community of international scholars

Professor Max Stearns had the idea to start an online workshop for legal scholars whose work overlaps the areas of constitutional law and economics well before the global pandemic. But it was COVID-19 that inspired him to turn his notion into reality. If ever there was a time to take advantage of technology to connect people, recalls Stearns, that was it.   

He invited top legal scholars from institutions including the University of Chicago, University of Virginia, Stanford, and Columbia to submit papers, and the Virtual Constitutional Law and Economics Workshop began meeting every two weeks after March break in the spring 2020 semester. It resumed in the fall 2020 semester, continuing on throughout this past spring. With a core group of around 10 participants, word spread, and Stearns began seeing attendance from scholars in India, Israel, Germany, Italy, Canada, and across the U.S. 

Thanks to Max, we were able to turn the challenges of COVID to our advantage,” says Professor Tom Ginsburg from the University of Chicago Law School. This is a topic that doesn’t have a regular home in a discipline, as it combines law, economics, philosophy and political science. Max brought together a diverse group of thinkers to provide a warm and rigorous scholarly environment.” 

Papers have addressed a wide variety of topicswith titles such as "The Law and Economics of Constitutional Monarchy (Barry Friedman, Tom Ginsburg, and Dan Rodriguez), Conflict Avoidance in Constitutional Law” (Michael Gilbert and Charles Barzun), “The Contract Thicket” (Orly Lobel), and "Economic Analysis in Law (Hanoch Dagan and Roy Kreitner). Stearns also promoted diversity in workshop participation, welcoming long-established academic stars and early-career scholars alike. 

“The Virtual Constitutional Law and Economics Workshop was a real bright spot in the academic year, says Assistant Professor Nina Varsava from the University of Wisconsin Law School. “My own article greatly benefitted from the generous feedback of participants, I learned a lot from the excellent and diverse papers presented, and the best part—I got to meet and engage with amazing scholars from across the U.S. and around the world!”  

Stearns is gratified that his efforts have resulted in a vibrant scholarly community for which no travel is required. “I enjoy getting a bunch of smart and curious people together,” he says. “That’s when the magic happens. 

A faculty member at Maryland Carey Law since 2006, Stearns is the Venable, Baetjer & Howard Professor of Law. He teaches Constitutional Law (Structure and Governance and Individual Rights) and Law and Economics. His most recent book, Law and Economics: Private and Public (West Academic 2018) (with Todd Zywicki and Tom Miceli), comprehensively applies a broad range of economic methodologies to subject matters across the law school curriculum.  

His scholarly articles appear in leading academic journals, including Yale Law JournalUniversity of Pennsylvania Law ReviewCalifornia Law ReviewStanford Law ReviewGeorgetown Law JournalNotre Dame Law Review, Vanderbilt Law Review, and University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law. Stearns regularly blogs on law, politics, and culture 

Stearns will be on research leave in fall 2021 working on a new book designed to tackle foundational challenges facing our constitutional democracy. The workshop will be on hiatus for the summer and will resume in the fall. As the workshop becomes more established, he hopes to find opportunities for interested students to participate. 

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