Faculty Spotlight: Ian Bartrum

Monday, February 22, 2021
Ian Bartrum

What is the most significant issue facing your field and how should it be addressed?

I think our most significant challenge over the next few years is to rebuild our constitutional conventions and traditions. The last four years have seen many of the soft norms that flesh out our practice of constitutionalism abandoned and/or destroyed, and without a shared normative backdrop it is often seems as though we are trying to speak to each other in different languages. I think a good deal of work in academic constitutional law over the next decade should be in producing historical and empirical scholarship that provides a common ground to rebuild upon.

When you are working on an article or a book, what's your favorite part of the process? What do you do during the process that others might find odd?

My favorite part is definitely coming up with the basic idea I want to explore, and then brainstorming how that idea might play out in various contexts. I find this to be the most creative and exciting stage of writing. Odd as it may sound, I also really like all the re-writing that takes place after I have a complete rough draft. I really like trying to polish the language, trying to play with alliteration and ambiguity, and trying to slip in small prose jokes or indirect references. Writing can be painful, but it can also be a lot of fun.

When students ask you what they should read outside the required textbooks and other law-related books, what do you suggest?

I always recommend books that have made me think about the purposes and structures of law. Two that I always point to are Frank Kafka’s The Trial, and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. The former explores the terrors of a completely arbitrary state lacking the basic elements of what we tend to think of as “legality.” The second captures the potential absurdity of completely rules driven institutions. Both will entertain, as well.

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