Kersch, Ken I. 1964–

views updated

Kersch, Ken I. 1964–

(Kenneth Ira Kersch)


Born August 13, 1964. Education: Attended Institut d'Études Politiques, Université de Paris IV (Sorbonne), 1984-85; Williams College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1986; Northwestern University, J.D. (cum laude), 1991; Cornell University, M.A., 1997, Ph.D., 1999.


Office—Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University, 416A Robertson Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544-1013; fax: 609-258-1110. E-mail—[email protected].


Admitted to bar in NY, MA, and Washington, DC. Presidential campaign of Bruce Babbitt, Concord, NH, staff member, 1987-88; Butler, Rubin, Newcomer, Saltarelli, Boyd & Krasnow (law firm), Chicago, IL, law clerk, 1989; Wiley, Rein & Fielding (law firm), Washington, DC, law clerk, 1990, lawyer, 1991-93; Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, assistant professor of political science, 1999-2002; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, assistant professor of politics, 2003—. Manuscript reviewer for various publishers, including New York University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Princeton University Press.


American Political Science Association, Western Political Science Association, New England Political Science Association, Phi Beta Kappa.


Fellowships from Sage Foundation and Mellon Foundation; Edward S. Corwin Award, American Political Science Association, 2000; Ann and Herbert W. Vaughan Fellow, Princeton University, 2001-02; visiting research scholar, Bowling Green State University, 2005; J. David Greenstone Prize, American Political Science Association, 2006, for best book on politics and history.



Freedom of Speech: Rights and Liberties under the Law, ABC-Clio (Santa Barbara, CA), 2003.

Constructing Civil Liberties: Discontinuities in the Development of American Constitutional Law, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

(Editor, with Ronald Kahn) The Supreme Court and American Political Development, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2006.

Contributor to books, including The Bill of Rights in Modern America, edited by James W. Ely, Jr. and David Bodenhamer, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 2008; Rehnquist Justice: Understanding the Court Dynamic, edited by Earl Maltz, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2003; and Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary, Congressional Quarterly Press (Washington, DC), 2006. Contributor to periodicals, including Washington University Global Studies Law Review, Studies in American Political Development, Critical Review, and Journal of Law and Education.


Ken I. Kersch is a member of the bar in New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. He is also an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University. Kersch's greatest professional interests are in the politics of the judiciary, American political thought, and American political and constitutional development. In 2006, The Supreme Court and American Political Development, which he edited with Ronald Kahn, was awarded the J. David Greenstone Prize for best book on politics and history from the American Political Science Association. Kersch's first published book was Freedom of Speech: Rights and Liberties under the Law. It provides a historical retrospective on the subject of freedom of speech, and also devotes some 150 pages to reproducing texts of documents and court decisions pertinent to the subject.

In 2004, Kirsch published Constructing Civil Liberties: Discontinuities in the Development of American Constitutional Law. In this book, he takes a look at the history of civil liberties in the United States and the ways in which understanding of those liberties has changed from time to time. Prior to the New Deal era of the late 1930s and early 1940s, property rights and the constitution were interpreted in a way that was fundamentally different from the post-New Deal paradigm. In order to protect other values, such as civil rights and the right to privacy, the importance of property was downplayed by New Deal supporters. Kersch challenges that interpretation in a work that is "revisionist" in nature, according to Independent Review contributor James W. Ely, Jr. Ely said that Kersch "challenges the conventional wisdom and offers a compelling rejoinder to what he terms ‘the Whiggish New Deal narrative,’" which incorporates morality lessons into the historical facts. The book shows how juggling the importance of one kind of right against another is frequently difficult and untidy, but states that many scholars have obscured history with their efforts to create cleaner narratives by leaving out important facts. "He points out that progressives and liberals have not been consistent champions of personal rights and have frequently shifted from one cause to another while couching their essentially political choices in moralistic terms," wrote Ely. For example, the right to privacy was not greatly supported by progressives in the first part of the twentieth century. It was seen as an impediment to the effort to build a powerful nation. Progressives were also unconcerned about segregation in the early 1900s, according to Kersch; they were much more interested in lending support to labor unions, many of which were unabashedly segregated, allowing no black members. It was not until the 1960s that civil rights for all races became a progressive issue, states the author, yet liberals try to blur the truth of the past to make it seem they have always followed a consistent agenda. Kersch gives other examples of how the past is frequently distorted in order to serve present ends. He examines the reputation of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. as a "liberal" and points out that based on his real positions, Holmes would certainly not qualify as a liberal today; an adherent of Social Darwinism, he had little or no sympathy for minorities of any type. Ely concluded: "Kersch has written a fascinating book that offers a fresh look at constitutional history and demolishes the Whiggish narrative as an exercise in historical whimsy calculated to serve political ends. This work, which covers many subjects well, should set the stage for a far-ranging debate over the meaning and direction of our constitutional past. It deserves a wide audience."

More praise for Kersch's work came from George Thomas in the Law and Politics Book Review. Thomas reiterated that the New Deal redefined constitutionality by putting the onus for protecting civil liberties on the Supreme Court, while encouraging the expansion of national powers, and that the world has largely viewed the New Deal through a revisionist lens. Constructing Civil Liberties "brilliantly dismantles this facile view of American constitutional development and its telos of ‘modern civil liberties,’" wrote Thomas. He found that through the use of detailed investigation into the political struggles that defined the era, Kersch provides "historical studies [that] are fascinating in their own right, but serve a more important purpose in excavating the conflicted process of twentieth-century American constitutional development." Kersch illustrates his case particularly well in discussing the conflicts and tensions existing between civil rights and labor rights. Labor unions had a long history of excluding African Americans from their membership, and so a step forward for labor interests often represented a loss of ground for the cause of civil rights. This point is "vividly" illustrated by Kersch through the case of Paul Senn, whose personal rights came into conflict with labor rights, due to regulations that forced him to exempt himself from the labor force. Senn was harassed by union representatives, yet this and the violation of his personal right to work were easily dismissed by those devoted to the cause of labor unions. Kersch also discusses the often-neglected debate over education rights. He shows that through systematic rulings against private schools, laws requiring the use of English, and laws making school attendance compulsory, education laws were used as a tool to building a unified country. Thomas expressed a wish that Kersch would have done more to define the concept of "development," but he stated that the author "deserves considerable credit for his immense scholarly undertaking of excavating the agonistic and often tragic struggle that has been at the heart of American constitutional development in the twentieth century."

Kersch collaborated with Ronald Kahn in editing The Supreme Court and American Political Development, published in 2006. In this collection of essays, including a contribution by Kersch, writers view the decisions made by the Supreme Court and the role it has played through the lens of political development theory. The essays all start from the premise that the court is influenced by many factors and is in its own way a political body. They are "multifaceted, insightful" writings, according to a contributor to the Harvard Law Review.



American Historical Review, October 1, 2005, David E. Bernstein, review of Constructing Civil Liberties: Discontinuities in the Development of American Constitutional Law, p. 1206; June 1, 2007, Tony A. Freyer, review of The Supreme Court and American Political Development, p. 843.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, March 1, 2005, B.E. Marston, review of Constructing Civil Liberties, p. 1305; November 1, 2006, R.A. Carp, review of The Supreme Court and American Political Development, p. 562.

First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, December 1, 2004, review of Freedom of Speech: Rights and Liberties under the Law, p. 63.

Harvard Law Review, April 1, 2007, review of The Supreme Court and American Political Development, p. 1734.

Independent Review, June 22, 2006, James W. Ely, review of Constructing Civil Liberties, p. 133.

Journal of Supreme Court History, July 1, 2004, D. Grier Stephenson, review of Freedom of Speech, p. 207; July 1, 2006, D. Grier Stephenson, review of Constructing Civil Liberties, p. 199.

Law and History Review, September 22, 2007, Stephen A. Siegel, review of Constructing Civil Liberties, p. 684.

Law and Politics Book Review, March 1, 2005, George Thomas, review of Constructing Civil Liberties, p. 181; October 1, 2006, Bradley D. Hays, review of The Supreme Court and American Political Development, p. 802.

Law and Social Inquiry, January 1, 2005, Howard S. Erlanger, review of Constructing Civil Liberties, p. 228.


Princeton University Law and Public Affairs Department Web site, (April 9, 2008), faculty profile.

Volokh Conspiracy, (October 17, 2005), David Bernstein, review of Constructing Civil Liberties.

About this article

Kersch, Ken I. 1964–

Updated About content Print Article