The inaugural William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Legal History Article of the Year Prize has been awarded to Gregory Ablavsky or Stanford Law School for his article, “Getting Public Rights Wrong: The Lost History of the Private Land Claims,” 74 Stan. L. Rev. 277 (2022).

In “Getting Public Rights Wrong,” Ablavksy takes up the subject of “public rights,” a category the U.S. Supreme Court has used since 1856 to designate those rights susceptible to federal administrative adjudication rather than adjudication in the Article III courts.  Ablavsky’s article recovers a “sprawling jurisprudence” from the nineteenth century involving private land claims by the inhabitants of territories ceded to the United States by foreign sovereigns.  As Ablavsky ably shows, nineteenth-century courts treated the resolution of such private land claims as “the paradigmatic example of public rights that could be resolved by administrative adjudication.”  “Getting Public Rights Wrong” establishes a fundamental point that has heretofore gone misunderstood in the historical literature, with serious consequences in the jurisprudence of the twenty-first-century administrative state.  “Throughout the nineteenth century,” Ablavsky writes, “the administrative adjudication of at least one form of vested rights to private property was constitutionally permissible.”

In 2022, the Foundation established the $10,000 prize for the best legal history article of the year.  The prize is intended to recognize the growing role of legal history teaching and research in law schools.  Articles on legal history published in a journal of legal scholarship, including student-edited law reviews, or written by a scholar with a degree in law, are eligible for consideration.  Articles published in a journal issue that first became available to subscribers or to the public in the year 2023 are eligible for next year’s prize.

To select each year’s winning article, the Foundation appointed a committee of legal scholars chaired by Cromwell trustee and Yale law professor John Fabian Witt.  The other current members of the committee are Cromwell trustees Sarah Barringer Gordon of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and John H. Langbein of Yale Law School, as well as Daniel R. Ernst, the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal History at Georgetown Law School; Amalia Kessler, the Lewis Talbot and Nadine Shelton Professor of International Legal Studies at Stanford Law School; Alison L. LaCroix, the Robert Newton Reid Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School; and Troy McKenzie, Dean and Cecelia Goetz Professor of Law at NYU School of Law.

Authors and journal editors are welcome to nominate articles, although articles fitting the criteria of the prize may be considered whether or not they are nominated.  Please submit nominations by February 1, 2024 through the submission function below.

Application Procedure

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