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Reflecting on History, Preparing for the Future

April 05, 2024

Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee

Dean Sophia Z. Lee discusses her scholarship in administrative law and shares her advice with law students and future scholars.

Sophia Z. Lee, Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, recently spoke with The Regulatory Review, discussing common themes in her work as a legal scholar and historian of administrative law.

Lee emphasized the importance of analyzing legal developments in their historical contexts and the crucial intersection between administrative law and racial justice movements. She also offered insight and advice to budding scholars of regulation and her plans for the future of Penn Carey Law.

From The Regulatory Review:

The Regulatory Review: As a legal scholar, you have combined your background as a lawyer and a historian throughout your scholarship. Could you describe some of the main themes of your scholarship?

There are two themes that are most relevant for The Regulatory Review’s audience. The first is administrative constitutionalism. In the early 2000s, legal scholars were paying renewed attention to the role non-court actors play in making constitutional law. They had written about the roles the public, the president, and Congress played. My work expanded the inquiry to include the work of administrative agencies in the interpretation and implementation of the U.S. Constitution. Using history, I showed that agencies had been far more influential and innovative interpreters of the Constitution than assumed.

The other theme of my work has been demonstrating the important relationship between administrative law and racial justice movements. My scholarship has emphasized how including advocacy before administrative agencies changes our understanding of the civil rights movement. For instance, I’ve shown that civil rights advocates did not abandon economic justice issues in the 1950s, as was previously assumed, but instead migrated many of those claims from the courts to administrative agencies. My work has also highlighted the influence racial justice advocates have had on administrative law. As civil rights advocates pursued administrative strategies, they raised novel issues that helped shape the course of administrative law for all parties.

The Regulatory Review is a daily online publication that provides accessible coverage of regulatory policymaking and enforcement issues across a full range of regulatory topics and from a variety of perspectives.

Launched in 2009 and operating under the guidance of Cary Coglianese, Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science, The Review is edited by students at Penn Carey Law. It is part of the overarching teaching, research, and outreach mission of the Penn Program on Regulation (PPR), which draws together more than 60 faculty from across the University of Pennsylvania.

Read Lee’s full interview at The Regulatory Review.