Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe Joins Kaplan Hecker

Law360 (January 12, 2023, 3:16 PM EST) --
Laurence Tribe
Laurence Tribe
He's presented oral arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court in 35 cases.

His treatise "American Constitutional Law" has been published in three editions and remains one of the most widely cited texts in the American legal system.

As a Harvard Law School professor, he's taught students including former President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan, and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Now, Laurence "Larry" Tribe is taking his constitutional law talents to Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, which he joined Thursday as of counsel.

In an interview Thursday with Law360 Pulse, Tribe said he gets numerous requests from public officials and private corporations to work on cases, but had to turn down more work than he would have liked because he didn't have a law firm behind him.

He said he decided to go with Kaplan Hecker because it advances the legal positions he personally believes in.

"Kaplan Hecker is the one whose briefs I'm most impressed with, whose legal strategy seems to me the wisest, and I'm really very comfortable there," Tribe said. "Other firms that approached me were tempting in some ways, but either I didn't think their work met my standards, or I thought too many of their clients were clients I wouldn't want to represent — like the former president.

"And a lot of the work that the Kaplan Hecker firm does is on causes that I'm deeply devoted to — racial justice, LGBTQ equality, gender equality, reproductive freedom, voting rights — a lot of things that are both on the business side and that advanced my ideas of public interest. So it was perfect. And if I had continued doing things just on my own, I think I would have worn myself out long before I reach 100, which is only 19 years away."

Now a professor emeritus, Tribe is a former Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard's highest academic title.

Tribe was born to Russian Jewish refugees in Shanghai in 1941. 

"I was interested in justice ever since I saw my father dragged off to a Japanese prison just for being an American citizen," he said. "I was only a little tyke then, but I have always cared about justice. The Constitution is all about justice. For me, I always felt proud of becoming an American citizen. The Constitution is not perfect, but it encompasses our greatest ideals. I've always wanted to help make a more perfect union. I also love history, and I love moral philosophy, and I love dissecting legal texts. And I love studying structure, which is what I liked about mathematics. And so nothing combines all of those things as well as constitutional law."

Tribe added that his father survived the prison camp, despite risking torture by having his wife smuggle in an American flag that he hid in the bottom of a container where he held all his clothes.

"He was a brave man," he said of his father.

Tribe's Supreme Court victories include Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. National Gay Task Force , where he successfully defended an opinion holding that teachers could not be fired for advocating equality for gays and lesbians. Tribe also authored the ACLU's amicus brief for the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas , which helped lead to marriage equality.

He was lead counsel for former Vice President Al Gore's legal team during the disputed presidential election in 2000, and during the Obama administration he was appointed the first senior counselor for Access to Justice in the Department of Justice.

In addition, President Joe Biden appointed him as a member of the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States.

At Kaplan Hecker, Tribe will continue to represent Coca-Cola as its chief constitutional counsel in The Coca-Cola Co. v. Commissioner, in which Coca-Cola disputes the retroactive application of Internal Revenue Service tax collection methods involving transfer pricing.

Kaplan Hecker founding partner Roberta "Robbie" Kaplan told Law360 Pulse that Tribe's joining the firm is a major coup for the young firm.

"If you had told me five years ago when we were working with, you know, a couple of laptops and some folding desks, and about four lawyers, that Kaplan Hecker would be in this place today, I think I would have told you that you were losing your mind," she said. "We could not be more honored by the fact that Larry will be joining our firm." 

In addition to his own numerous published works, Tribe has co-authored two books with Kaplan Hecker partner Joshua Matz: "Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution" in 2014 and "To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment" in 2018.

Besides his children and grandchildren, Tribe said his proudest accomplishments are being named the best law professor at Harvard Law School in 2000, and winning several important victories for gays and lesbians.

In the current judicial climate, Tribe said he agrees with U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit, who has argued more must be done at the state court level.

"The complete right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court is a source of enormous worry," Tribe said. "So I'm very interested in formulating issues in such a way that they can be handled without any possibility for U.S. Supreme Court intervention. That's why, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, a number of state supreme courts have held that the state constitution protects women's rights to control their own bodies on the basis of the state constitution, which the U.S. Supreme Court then can't overturn." 

But despite his politics, Tribe has earned respect from attorneys on both sides of the aisle.

"Professor Laurence Tribe has been the nation's preeminent constitutional scholar for the past half century and few would dispute that he is the greatest legal mind of our times," corporate lawyer and retired Fourth Circuit Judge J. Michael Luttig, a Republican conservative, told Law360 Pulse by email. "It has been a high privilege for me to know and work with Professor Tribe over the last 40 years and I treasure our friendship."  

Tribe graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from Harvard College and then magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

Following law school, Tribe clerked for Justice Potter Stewart at the U.S. Supreme Court, and for Justice Mathew O. Tobriner at the California Supreme Court.

Before joining the faculty at Harvard, Tribe spent a year at the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition, he co-founded the American Constitution Society and has received 11 honorary degrees, including from Hebrew University and the government of Mexico, the firm said.

--Editing by Nicole Bleier.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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