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Prof. Blackhawk wins prestigious William Nelson Cromwell Foundation article prize

December 18, 2019

Professor Maggie Blackhawk, one of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s most recent faculty additions, has been awarded the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation prize for “Petitioning and the Making of an Administrative State,” published in the Yale Law Journal in 2018.

Each year, the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation offers a $5,000 prize for the “best article in American legal history published by an early career scholar.” The Foundation awards the prize based on the recommendation of the Cromwell Article Prize Committee of the American Society for Legal History.

In its citation, the Committee stated that it “had little difficulty in reaching a unanimous agreement to award the prize” to Blackhawk’s piece, which it called “a work of prodigious scholarship and sharp analytical insight … [which] makes a robust case that the constitutional basis of the administrative state in core republican ideals grounded in the First Amendment’s protection of the right to petition Congress for relief.”  The Committee also noted that Blackhawk’s piece spans “over more than two centuries of American legal history while engaging areas of several lively constitutional disputes” and “combines exhaustive archival and empirical research with a deft handling of administrative law and judicial process to offer provocative interventions into much of our received wisdom in those fields.”

Blackhawk dives deeply into her “original database of over 500,000 petitions submitted to Congress from the Founding until 1950 and previously unpublished archival materials from the First Congress.” Using this database and archival materials, Blackhawk offers three case studies – the development of the Court of Claims, the Bureau of Pensions, and the Interstate Commerce Commission – that track the outgrowth of the modern “administrative state” from the petition process, which historically, Blackhawk wrote, has “afforded a mechanism of representation for the politically powerless.”

The Committee called the article “a robust intervention into several ongoing historical and legal debates,” citing, in particular, its rejection of “criticisms of the modern administrative state as a violation of constitutional separation of powers and usurpation of authority – even as unconstitutional – and challenges [Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha]’s holding the legislative veto to be unconstitutional.”

Blackhawk (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe) researches and teaches in the fields of constitutional law, federal Indian law, and legislation. In addition to the Yale Law Journal, her work has appeared in the Harvard Law Review, Stanford Law Review, and Cambridge University Press.  Her empirical projects have been supported by the American Political Science Association, the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, among others.

The William Nelson Cromwell Foundation was established in 1930 by a Deed of Foundation and recognizes excellence in American legal history scholarship, particularly concerning the colonial and early national periods. In addition to the article prize, the Foundation also awards several other prizes and fellowships to American legal history scholars and makes grants to support various kinds of work regarding American legal history.

This year’s prize committee was comprised of David Konig, Chair, Washington University; Deborah Dinner, Emory University; H. Tomas Gomez-Arostegui, Lewis and Clark; and Erika Pani, Colegio de México.