The Pernicious Myth of Judicial Supremacy

The Annual Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture on America’s Founding Principles

April 20, 2016
Paulsen event photo

Michael Stokes PaulsenUniversity Chair, Professor of Law, The University of St. Thomas

Nearly all of American constitutional law today rests on a myth.  That myth – taught as unquestioned truth from grade school to law school – is that the power of constitutional interpretation belongs exclusively to the U.S. Supreme Court; that the Court’s decisions are thus every bit as much “supreme law of the land” as the Constitution itself; and that the other branches of government, the states, and We the People, accordingly are bound by the Supreme Court’s interpretations of the Constitution, in every instance – no matter what the Court decides to hold. 

So the myth goes.  Every feature of the myth is wrong.  

Michael Stokes Paulsen is Distinguished University Chair and Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas, where he has taught since 2007. He was previously the McKnight Presidential Professor of Law & Public Policy and Associate Dean at the University of Minnesota Law School, where he taught from 1991-2007. He has served as a federal prosecutor, as Attorney-Advisor in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, and as counsel for the Center for Law & Religious Freedom. He is the author of more than ninety scholarly articles and book chapters on a wide variety of constitutional law topics.  In addition to The Constitution: An Introduction(Basic Books, 2015), co-authored with Luke Paulsen, Professor Paulsen is co-author of the casebook The Constitution of the United States, (with Steve Calabresi, Michael McConnell, and Samuel Bray -- Foundation Press, 2d ed. 2013), and editor of Our Constitution: Landmark Interpretations of America’s Governing Document (The Federalist Society, 2013). He received his BA degree with distinction from Northwestern University, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He received a MA in Religion from Yale Divinity School and a JD from Yale Law School, where he was an editor of the Yale Law Journal and a recipient of the Harlan Fiske Stone Prize for appellate advocacy.

Endowed by the late Herbert "Wiley" Vaughan, founding member of the Madison Program's Advisory Council, the Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture on America’s Founding Principles is an endowed Princeton University lecture that is hosted by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions in the Department of Politics.  Its purpose is to promote and advance understanding of the founding principles and core doctrines of American constitutionalism. 


The Pernicious Myth of Judicial Supremacy


McCormick Hall 101

Photo Album:

  • Michael Paulsen on Judicial Supremacy
  • Michael Paulsen on Judicial Supremacy
  • Michael Paulsen on Judicial Supremacy