Harvard legal scholar Cass Sunstein has been named this year’s winner of the Holberg Prize. As it is not specifically a human rights award, it is not included in the Digest of THF [http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/], but this winner’s achievements in the human rights area are interesting enough to earn a mention in this blog:

Sunstein‘s scholarship spans behavioral economics and public policy, constitutional law and democratic theory, legal theory and jurisprudence, administrative law, and the regulation of risk. In particular, Sunstein’s academic work has reshaped understanding of the relationship between the modern regulatory state and constitutional law. He is widely regarded as the leading scholar of administrative law in the United States, and is by far the most cited legal scholar in the country.

For four decades, Sunstein has combined his scholarly contributions with a range of public activities and participation in open debate. He has influenced thinking on some of the most pressing issues of the time, from climate change and free speech to health issues.

Describing the key purpose of his work, Sunstein said, “I have long been concerned with how to promote enduring constitutional ideals — freedom, dignity, equality, self-government, the rule of law — under contemporary circumstances, which include large bureaucracies that sometimes promote, and sometimes threaten, those ideals.  The main goal has been to deepen the foundations of democratic theory for the modern era, and to understand in practical terms how democracies might succeed in helping to make people’s lives better — and longer.”

Sunstein has published 48 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. The books “After the Rights Revolution” (1990) and “The Partial Constitution” (1993) are considered his major works on American constitutional law, and explore how related ideals can be reworked and defended in the face of the challenges posed by the rise of the administrative state. “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide” (2018) emphasizes the importance of self-government and of human dignity, linking those to republican ideals and the power of impeachment.


Sunstein won the Goldsmith Book Prize for “Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech” (1993), in which he argued the need to reformulate U.S. First Amendment law. The book says that it is necessary to move away from the conception of free speech as a marketplace, in order to “reinvigorate processes of democratic deliberation, by ensuring greater attention to public issues and greater diversity of views.”

His work on self-government, free speech, and modern technologies, culminating in “#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media” (2017), explores the problem of echo chambers and social polarization. It argues for the importance of common spaces and unchosen, serendipitous encounters with problems and ideas.

Sunstein earned his J.D. magna cum laude in 1978 from Harvard Law School, where he was executive editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. From 1980‒1981 he was an attorney-adviser at the U.S. Justice Department, before becoming an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School (1981–1983), where he also became an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science (1983–1985). Sunstein became full professor in both political science and law in 1985, and in 1988 he was named the Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence in the Law School and Department of Political Science.