University News

Gerhardt becomes first independent scholar to advise Library of Congress on U.S. Constitution Annotated

Michael Gerhardt of the UNC School of Law was selected based on his scholarship and his history working as a non-partisan expert and consultant with Congress

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law’sMichael Gerhardt, Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor in Constitutional Law and director of the Program in Law and Government, has become the first independent scholar to advise the American Law Division, a branch of the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress, in revising and updating the official U.S. Constitution Annotated, popularly known as CONAN.

Michael Gerhardt stands in front of a white board with writing on it.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law’s Michael Gerhardt will be the first independent scholar to advise the American Law Division to revise and update the official U.S. Constitution Annotated

Gerhardt was selected based on his scholarship and his history working as a non-partisan expert and consultant with Congress. His role will be to work with the American Law Division to ensure that the revisions and updates to the official U.S. Constitution Annotated are comprehensive, free of bias and legally sound, as required by federal law.

“I am greatly honored by this extraordinary opportunity,” said Gerhardt. “It is especially meaningful to me, not only as someone who has devoted his life to enriching our understanding of the Constitution, but also as a UNC law professor.  The last person to oversee CONAN was the late Johnny Killian, senior specialist at the Congressional Research Service and beloved 1963 graduate of UNC School of Law. Maintaining Carolina’s connection with this project and extending Johnny’s work means a great deal to me.”

CONAN is the official documentation of the U.S. Constitution and its interpretation over time. It contains legal analysis of the Constitution, based primarily on U.S. Supreme Court case law. For more than a century, CONAN has been revised and published every 10 years as required by Congress. These updates are useful when researching the constitutional implications of a specific issue or topic such as recent Supreme Court decisions that demonstrate pivotal interpretations of the Constitution’s provisions.

Through its most recent revisions in 2012, only the American Law Division or its predecessor organizations have updated the official Constitution, most famously in the 1950s by the late, renowned constitutional expert Edward Corwin of Princeton University, who also headed the American Law Division. Since CONAN was last updated, the American Law Division determined that the document, which has a world-wide audience including Congress, practicing lawyers and judges, students, academics and the public, would benefit from an outsider’s perspective.

“When we decided to seek outside consultation on the revisions of this public document, Professor Gerhardt’s knowledge of Congress, constitutional law and history made him an excellent choice,” said Karen Lewis, assistant director for the American Law Division, Congressional Research Service. “We look forward to reviewing his evenhanded assessment.”

Gerhardt received a B.A. from Yale University, M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and a J.D. from the University of Chicago. He has advised congressional leaders and White House officials on numerous constitutional issues, including judicial nominations, recess appointments, impeachment, health care reform, the filibuster and the debt ceiling crises. In 2003 and 2005, he worked with Senate Majority leaders and the Democratic PolicyCommittee on the constitutionality of the filibuster and the so-called nuclear option. He is the only legal scholar to have formally participated in confirmation hearings for five of the nine justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court, which included serving as special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009-2010 for the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, a position requiring the unanimous approval of the entire committee. He has also served as a principal consultant on numerous other constitutional issues coming before the Judiciary Committee, including the Affordable Care Act.

Although it is too early in the review process to outline specific revisions to CONAN, Gerhardt’s comprehensive critical analysis of the volume is underway and will continue into the fall.