Four new scholars, including a leading expert in criminal law and three rising stars in American federalism, energy law, and environmental regulation, will join the University of Chicago Law School faculty on July 1. Their arrival marks one of the strongest hiring years in recent memory.
Sonja B. Starr, who taught criminal law as a visiting professor at the Law School in 2015, will join the faculty as a professor of law, bringing a deep background in the use of quantitative analysis to examine the effects of criminal justice policies. A member of the University of Michigan Law School faculty since 2009, Starr spent six years as a co-director of the school’s Empirical Legal Studies Center. Her work often centers on disparities in policing, sentencing, and other aspects of criminal law.
Three entry-level scholars will join the faculty as assistant professors of law, bringing diverse interests and expertise. Bridget A. Fahey, a former US Supreme Court clerk and law firm associate, most recently spent two years as the George Sharswood Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where her research focused on federalism. Hajin Kim, a former US Supreme Court clerk who will receive her PhD this year from Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, explores topics at the intersection of environmental regulation, social psychology, and economics. Joshua C. Macey, a former financial analyst and federal appellate clerk, focuses on energy, corporate, and environmental law and the regulation of financial institutions; he most recently served as a postdoctoral associate and visiting assistant professor at Cornell Law School.
“Professors Starr, Kim, Fahey, and Macey each bring exceptional intellect, energy, and teaching talent, and we are delighted to welcome them to our faculty,” said Dean Thomas J. Miles, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics. “I am also immensely grateful to the faculty Appointments Committee, whose devotion and hard work brought us these brilliant new colleagues, especially our co-chairs Professor Jonathan Masur and Professor Lee Fennell.”
Added Deputy Dean Richard McAdams, the Bernard D. Meltzer Professor of Law: “We will remember 2020 for many reasons, but for the Law School, it is a banner year for the hiring of these four spectacular new colleagues.”
Masur, the John P. Wilson Professor of Law, said he was grateful to “Dean Miles and everyone on the faculty who helped show [the three new assistant professors] that Chicago would be the ideal place for them to start their careers.”
“Within a few years, we fully expect that they will become thought leaders in their fields,” he said. “We also expect that they’ll become among the best teachers at the Law School. The rest of us will have to up our games just to keep pace.”
Sonja B. Starr
Starr is known for innovative scholarship on injustice, including empirical studies on the expungement of criminal convictions and racial disparities in prosecution and a field experiment that examined whether “ban-the-box” policies, which prevent employers from asking applicants to disclose criminal history, actually encourage racial discrimination. She has also written about the challenges of empirically analyzing policing disparities and about equality concerns associated with the use of predictive algorithms by police and courts.
“Sonja is a tremendous hire for the Law School,” said Fennell, the Max Pam Professor of Law. “Her research brings cutting-edge empirical methods to bear on crucial issues of criminal justice and discrimination, and her energy and ideas will enrich our intellectual community.”
Omri Ben-Shahar, the Leo and Eileen Herzel Professor of Law and the Kearney Director of the Law School’s Coase-Sandor Institute for Law and Economics, called Starr’s work some of “the most interesting scholarship on the most important problem of criminal law—racial disparities.”
“Working in the field of law and economics, Starr is committed to exploring the many faces of social injustice,” Ben-Shahar said. “Her work has already changed how people think about sentencing, profiling, and employment discrimination.”
Starr’s interest in criminal law grew alongside her work in international human rights.
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Starr majored in social studies and served as captain of the debate team. After graduating summa cum laude, she worked for a year as a debate coach and then enrolled in Yale Law School, where she served as editor of the Yale Law Journal and spent five semesters in the school’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic, which she called “the center of my law school experience.”
It was over the course of three post-law school jobs that her interest in criminal law blossomed, driven in part by the people and the cases she encountered. Beginning in 2002, she clerked for Judge Merrick Garland on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit during a term that included a number of criminal law cases.
“The majority of the decisions I worked on were criminal law decisions,” she said. “That’s when I started thinking more about it.”
Conversations with those around her fueled the growing appeal of pursuing criminal justice: Garland is a former prosecutor, and other clerks shared her interests; one of them, JJ Prescott, would become a frequent co-author and a Michigan Law colleague.
During the year and a half that followed, Starr worked as a law firm associate specializing in Supreme Court litigation—a period of time that coincided with two landmark rulings on criminal sentencing: Blakely v. Washington (2004) and US v. Booker (2005). She and Prescott published a paper in 2006 examining the effects of Blakeley, and several years after that, Starr authored or co-authored several papers examining the impact of Booker.
She returned to international human rights in 2005, working for more than a year on the appeals chamber for the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. When she returned to the States, she decided to pursue academia, first focusing on international criminal law tribunals and then expanding more broadly into criminal law.
“The more I started engaging in the US criminal law side of things, the more I was seeing that there are human rights issues in our own criminal justice system that are at least as worthy of attention,” she said.
Her scholarship often cites empirical research, and an initial desire to “become a better consumer” of that work led her to build her own expertise in quantitative analysis and ultimately to begin carrying out her own empirical studies.
At UChicago, Starr’s classes will include Sentencing, as well as a seminar on the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions, which will examine expungement and ban-the-box policies and other issues related to criminal records.
Teaching, she said, energizes her.
“The fresh perspectives of my students cause me to think in new ways about both about the legal material and the holdings of cases but also about the structural issues in our criminal justice system,” she said.
Starr, who participated earlier this month in the Law School’s Colloquium on the Crisis in Policing, said she is eager to become a part of the Law School faculty.
“The University of Chicago is unlike any other law school in the intensity of the feeling of community that it generates both for faculty and for students,” she said. “Everybody really takes the time to get to know each other … and it’s a place where people are encouraged to argue and debate with one another, to push each other to find the weak spots in their arguments, all in a way that makes each other stronger.”
Bridget A. Fahey
Fahey’s roots as a federalism scholar began at the University of Chicago, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2008. She knew even then that she wanted to pursue an academic career, and that she was interested in the structure of political and legal institutions.
“Federalism is such a rich and evolving field in both legal and political theory,” said Fahey, whose work centers on the interaction among domestic governments and the often unseen practices that emerge.
For instance, in one paper, she examined the federal government’s practice of dictating which state officials are able to accept or reject offers to join cooperative federalism programs, a “consent procedure” that shapes how states make those decisions and, she argues, raises questions about the authenticity of state consent. In another paper, one published this month, she examines the frequently undisclosed written agreements that formally coordinate activities among domestic governments.
“My general thinking about federalism is that there is a lot that happens inconspicuously, outside of our familiar governing institutions,” Fahey said. “We have an incredible array of domestic governments that interact in staggeringly diverse ways—most of which would not be familiar to the people who designed our system of government. I try to tell the story of American federalism in all of its contemporary complexity.”
Sharing this with students is especially exciting, she said. “These are legal structures that are going to have a significant effect on the law in their lifetimes.”
Masur called Fahey “a brilliant scholar who has already done innovative work in constitutional law and federalism.”
“She has taken scholarship on federalism in novel and productive directions, which is an impressive feat for any scholar but especially so for someone just beginning her career,” he said.
Fahey, who worked as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group for three years after college, entered Yale Law School with an interest in pursuing legal academia. At Yale, she earned the Benjamin Scharps Prize for the best paper by a third-year student and the Potter Stewart Prize for the best moot court team, and served as an executive development editor on the Yale Law Journal. After a clerkship on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, she clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the US Supreme Court and then worked as a litigator representing cities and Native American tribes.
Fahey said she is excited to return to the University of Chicago—an institution that “taught me to think.”
“It’s particularly special to return to a place that has been so influential to me,” she said. “Like the broader University, the faculty at the Law School has a truly distinctive intellectual culture. I’m just delighted to be a part of it.”
Kim started out interested in economics. In 2007, she earned a bachelor’s degree in the discipline from Harvard, where she focused on international trade and graduated summa cum laude before going to work as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group.
But the year after college, she read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a nonfiction book that explores the environmental impact of factory farming as it details the Kingsolver family’s effort to eat only locally grown food for a year.
“It was kind of mind blowing because when you study economics and particularly trade, you don't think that much about those externalities—you think, ‘The government can take care of that with its carbon tax or pollution tax,’” Kim said. “It just made me realize that the market's not quite working as expected … and I became very interested in environmental issues.”
She decided to go to law school, choosing Stanford so she also could pursue a joint master’s degree program in environment and resources. But two things happened: she loved her environmental studies and decided to pursue an interdisciplinary PhD alongside her JD—and she took a social norms class that “completely changed the way I think about the law.” Among other scholars, Kim read work by McAdams, who is the author of The Expressive Powers of Law: Theories and Limits, which examines why people obey the law. She began thinking about how norms impact behavior and how morality factors into the decisions people make.
“I decided I wanted to pursue this other path—I wanted to look more at the expressive function of law, not just its coercive powers,” said Kim, who earned her JD from Stanford in 2014.
During law school, Kim interned at the Climate Action Reserve in Los Angeles, at the National Resources Defense Council in Beijing, and at a law firm in Menlo Park, California. After law school, she clerked for Judge Paul Watford on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in addition to continuing her doctoral work.
“Hajin Kim brings both tremendous raw intelligence and sophisticated technical training to bear on critical questions of environmental and corporate regulation,” Masur said. “Through the application of new methodologies and modes of thinking, she has the capacity to make progress on issues of great importance that have long stymied other scholars.”
Much of Kim’s scholarship focuses on the way moral tests and moral opportunities influence behavior. With a moral test, she explained, one might feel terrible about doing the wrong thing, like cheating on a test, but not get a particular boost from doing the right thing. With a moral opportunity, one might get a tremendous boost from doing the right thing, like donating a kidney, but not feel all that bad if they don’t.
The differences in motivation fascinate her. Kim has explored whether stakeholders are less likely to reward firms for corporate social responsibility if the activities are mandatory rather than voluntary. She also used a negotiation experiment to compare the effectiveness of two policies aimed at cutting emissions: cap-and-trade policies, which essentially create a cap on allowable pollution and then have allowances under the cap that can be sold and traded, and pollution taxes, which place a price on the emissions a company produces each year. In her experiment, those negotiating a pollution tax reached the more environmentally protective results. That outcome suggests a psychological distinction between economically equivalent instruments, Kim said, and she plans further work to understand its mechanisms.
“We have all these new market-based instruments, such as cap-and-trade and pollution taxes … but we tend to think only about the financial incentives that underlie them,” Kim said. “We don't think about the social and moral motivations that might also influence behavior. But these externalities are inherently societal harms, and so they are inherently other-regarding, and [it makes sense that] morality and reputational concerns are part of what drives behavior in this sphere.”
Kim said she looks forward to joining the “rich intellectual environment” of the Law School and to having the opportunity to teach.
“I love the dialogue and I love learning from students,” Kim said. “And it's fun to think about the most effective way to communicate or persuade or get something across.”
Joshua C. Macey
It isn’t simply energy regulation itself that fascinates Macey—although it does, both for its salience in addressing climate change and for the insights it offers in “thinking about how regulation works and operates in the first place.”
He is also curious about the field’s lack of popularity among scholars.
“Energy is the epicenter of the struggle about de-carbonization and climate change and yet it is a hugely understudied topic in the legal academy,” Macey said. “In the 1970s, energy regulation was actually quite popular and contributed to a dramatic industry transformation … but now it's fallen into this arcane, turgid backwater.”
That’s starting to change—and Macey, a 2017 graduate of Yale Law School, is a part of that.
His work combines administrative law, environmental law, energy regulation, and bankruptcy; for instance, he has explored how coal company bankruptcy proceedings can undermine federal environmental and labor laws and how Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) interventions have counteracted state clean energy policies.
“We thought energy law was a moribund field until we met Josh Macey,” Masur said. “He has amassed an incredible body of knowledge about the economics and regulation of energy markets, and he is bringing smart, creative thinking and new ideas to an area that is vitally important but has long been overlooked.”
Macey, who earned his bachelor’s degree in English literature from Yale in 2012, graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science with a master’s degree in political theory in 2013. He then worked for a year as a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley before enrolling in Yale Law School. As a law student, he worked on the Mortgage Foreclosure Litigation Clinic and served as editor of the Yale Law Journal.
After law school, he clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson on the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and then joined Cornell Law School as a postdoctoral associate and then a visiting professor.
He enjoys engaging with students—“I learn as much from them as do they from me,” he said—and especially enjoys introducing them to energy law, something he had an opportunity to do at Cornell.
“I’ve had a few students who are now working for FERC,” he said. “Seeing them awaken to a new subject that they never thought would interest them—and then seeing them realize that it's something they might want to pursue professionally—is very fulfilling.”
He hopes to build interest in energy law among his students and his new colleagues at UChicago.
“People joke that law professors walk around with copies of the Constitution in their hands. Hopefully I can convince my colleagues to carry a copy of the Federal Power Act,” Macey said, laughing. “That might be a bit aspirational, but I am hoping that my interest in arcane energy matters might be contagious and that some of the people who've done fascinating regulatory and economic work become increasingly interested in the somewhat crazy markets we have in the electricity sector.”
He looks forward to joining the “intense and collegial and collaborative academic environment” at the Law School.
“It’s apparent even from the summer workshops schedule how intense and exhilarating the intellectual environment is,” he said. “I'm totally thrilled to be a part of that.”