The Cooley Book Prize, Judicial Lecture and Symposium honors the renowned legal scholar and jurist Thomas McIntyre Cooley. Cooley was a longstanding chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, and a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, where he also served as the dean. He authored several highly influential books, including A Treatise on the Constitutional Limitations Which Rest Upon the Legislative Power of the States of the American Union.

2023 Book Prize: Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital Rival

The sixth annual Thomas M. Cooley Book Prize of $50,000 was awarded to Walter Stahr for his book, Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital Rival (Simon & Schuster, 2022). Walter Stahr is a lawyer and the author, to date, of four biographies of figures from American history.

The Center’s faculty director, Patrick Hotung Professor of Constitutional Law Randy Barnett, explained its Cooley Book Prize decision:

Reviving the memory of neglected figures who played an important role in our constitutional history is at the core of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution’s mission. To this end, we named our very first high-profile event the Salmon P. Chase Distinguished Lecture and Faculty Colloquium. Awarding both the Cooley Prize and the Chase Lectureship to the same person is unprecedented. It is fitting that, on the tenth anniversary of the Chase lecture series, we honor Walter Stahr for his masterful book. Thanks to him, at long last, Salmon Chase has the biography he deserves.

On Friday, September 29, 2023, Walter Stahr will receive the Cooley Prize at an award ceremony at the National Archives. The evening event will feature the Thomas M. Cooley Judicial Lecture by the Honorable Stephanos Bibas of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. 

2022 Book Prize: The President Who Would Not Be King: Executive Power Under the Constitution

The fifth annual Thomas M. Cooley Book Prize of $50,000 was awarded to Professor Michael W. McConnell of Stanford University for his book, The President Who Would Not Be King: Executive Power Under the Constitution (Princeton University Press, 2020).

The Center’s faculty director, Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett, explained the Cooley Book Prize decision:

The Center’s mission is to advance Originalism as an interpretive method by developing originalist theory and promoting superb originalist scholarship. Michael McConnell richly deserves this recognition for his pioneering work as an originalist scholar, the pinnacle of which is his masterful book, The President Who Would Not Be King.

Identifying the original meaning of the executive power has proven to be a challenge for originalists. Does the letter of Article II limit the executive power to the specific powers enumerated in Article II the way Congress’ powers are limited by Article I? Does the president have powers that are inherently “executive” in nature in addition to those specified in Article II? When may presidential powers be limited by Congress? Was the spirit of Article II primarily informed by the need to avoid a monarchy like that of England or to empower an energetic executive?

Michael McConnell brilliantly shows how the Philadelphia Convention threaded the needle of creating a strong unitary executive while allocating significant powers to Congress to constrain their abuse. In particular, he sensitively examines each of the “prerogative” powers of the British monarch and shows how the framers carefully considered which to allocate to an elected president, which to the Senate, and which to the Congress as a whole.

His pathbreaking analysis of the successive drafts of the Constitution demonstrates the care that was taken to empower an effective executive while avoiding the emergence of a king. Using this originalist interpretation, he then powerfully critiques the tri-partite framework for evaluating executive power in Justice Robert Jackson’s influential concurrence in the Steel Seizure Case.

On Friday, October 14, 2022, Professor McConnell received the Cooley Prize at an award ceremony at the National Archives. The evening event featured the Thomas M. Cooley Judicial Lecture, by the Honorable Don Willett of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, who was previously a justice on the Supreme Court of Texas. A special thanks goes to Aaron Gordon, one of his 2021-22 law clerks, for his superb assistance in preparing this lecture. On Saturday, Professor McConnell taught a seminar on his book to members of the Originalism Seminar Alumni Association and Georgetown Law community.

2021 Book Prize: No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding

The 2021 Thomas M. Cooley Book Prize of $50,000 was awarded to Professor Sean Wilentz of Princeton University for his book, No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding (Harvard University Press, 2018). The Center’s faculty director, Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett, explained the decision:

Sean Wilentz’s timely book strikes at the now-conventional wisdom that the U.S. Constitution endorsed slavery or “property in man.” Wilentz describes how the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 propelled a powerful antislavery movement. Wilentz meticulously shows that antislavery forces at the Constitutional Convention successfully resisted slaveholders’ persistent efforts to include language that would expressly legitimate the concept of “property in man.”

He then traces how the wording of the Declaration and the Constitution were effectively used by an increasingly assertive antislavery movement in the 19th Century. This agitation culminated in the formation of the antislavery Republican Party with a platform consciously designed to implement the Declaration’s principles while remaining faithful to the Constitution’s text. The victory of the Republican platform at the polls in 1860 immediately triggered Southern secession and the civil war that culminated in the formal amendment that ended slavery in the United States. This is a narrative that all Americans today need to know.

2020 Book Prize: Repugnant Laws: Judicial Review of Acts of Congress from the Founding to the Present

The 2020 Thomas M. Cooley Book Prize of $50,000 was awarded to Professor Keith E. Whittington of Princeton University for his book, Repugnant Laws: Judicial Review of Acts of Congress from the Founding to the Present (University Press of Kansas, 2019).

“This book is a must-read for any serious student of our Constitution and how it actually works,” said Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett, director of the Center for the Constitution. Repugnant Laws presents the most comprehensive account of every Supreme Court decision reviewing the constitutionality of a federal statute since the nation’s founding.

“Facts matter and this book provides them,” Barnett said.  “From now on, no discussion of the practice of judicial review can ignore the book’s empirical findings. The most cynical political scientist will need to come to grips with its conclusion that ‘the justices are not lapdogs, and they have often bitten the hand of the party that put them on the bench.’ At the same time, idealists will need to incorporate its findings that the ‘justices have proven themselves to be allies of [their] political coalition leaders.’”

Critical Papers about Whittington’s Book and their Authors:

2019 Book Prize: Law and Legitimacy in the Supreme Court

Professor Richard H. Fallon, Jr. of Harvard Law School received the second Thomas M. Cooley Book Prize of $50,000 for his book, Law and Legitimacy in the Supreme Court (Harvard University Press, 2018). 

“Professor Fallon’s deeply scholarly and fair-minded book systematically examines a much-neglected topic in constitutional theory: exactly what makes a constitution legitimate—not merely in the sense that it is accepted by the general public, but that it is morally legitimate and ought to be accepted,” said the Center’s faculty director, Professor Randy Barnett.  “The book then uses its answer to this question to assess how the U.S. Constitution ought to be interpreted. While respectfully and knowledgeably critiquing originalism, Professor Fallon nevertheless affirms the importance of ‘original public meaning’ even to nonoriginalists.”

Critical Papers about Fallon’s Book and their Authors:

2018: Book Prize: A Great Power of Attorney: Understanding the Fiduciary Constitution

The first Cooley Prize was awarded to professors Gary Lawson (Boston University School of Law) and Guy Seidman (IDC Herzliya—Radzyner School of Law).  Their book, A Great Power of Attorney: Understanding the Fiduciary Constitution (Kansas University Press, 2017), explores what type of legal document the Constitution is and how that affects the powers it grants to government officials and the duties they owe the public.

Critical Papers about Fallon’s Book and their Authors: