Letter to the Editor: Students Defend Tribe

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To the Editor:

We are a group of Professor Laurence H. Tribe’s current and recent research and teaching assistants. We have read with interest your coverage of an allegation that has been leveled against Professor Tribe (“Dean of Mass Law School…”, “Harvard Owes Students Explanation…,” Oct. 7, 2004).

His 1985 book God Save this Honorable Court fails to attribute phrases describing historical facts in a few sentences as quotations from a book by Professor Henry Abraham. Professor Tribe immediately apologized for the error as soon as it was called to his attention, and he has done nothing but shoulder the blame himself.

There is not the remotest suggestion that this failure to attribute was intentional. Instead, all agree that this was an accident. Professor Tribe provided Professor Abraham with a pre-publication copy inviting comments, and Professor Tribe’s book describes Professor Abraham’s volume as the leading work in the field.

We believe some words of context are important here. As you may know, Professor Tribe has authored or co-authored almost ten books, ninety articles and essays of legal scholarship, more than seventy op-ed pieces, thirty letters to the editor, scores of Supreme Court and lower court briefs, and American Constitutional Law, the dominant treatise in the field. He has testified before Congress on more than forty occasions. He has won most of the 35 cases he has argued before the Supreme Court. When he was 35 years old, Time Magazine named him one of the ten most outstanding law professors in the country. A recent survey of Harvard Law School alumni found that he was the most admired member of the faculty, past or present. Professor Tribe has helped author the constitutions of several emerging democracies, including South Africa, Russia, and the Czech Republic. His widely acknowledged creativity and unsurpassed substantive mastery have made him the leading thinker in the domain of constitutional law.

If we learn anything in law school-indeed, if we learn anything as young adults-it is that context matters. The context in which Professor Tribe’s mistake should be judged includes a mountain of paradigm-shifting writing, and a profession and nation both justly grateful for a scholar’s career of original and progressive intellection.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Fertik ’05Justin Dillon ’02Sam Spital ’04Stephen Shackelford, Jr. ’05Anjan Choudhury ’04Tara Grove ’02Justin Levitt ’02

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