Professor Larry Alexander Delivers the First Annual Coxford Lecture

Professor Larry Alexander, one of the world’s leading constitutional law scholars, delivered the inaugural Coxford Lecture at Western Law on the topic “Of Living Trees and Dead Hands: The Interpretation of Constitutional Rights.”

The Coxford Lecture is made possible by a gift from Stephen R. Coxford ‘77, a member of Western’s Board of Governors. Coxford donated $150,000 to endow the Coxford Lectureship Fund.

“Stephen Coxford’s generous gift allows Western Law to invite a prominent scholar each year to deliver an original lecture on leading public law questions. We are all very grateful for his significant contribution which so richly and thoughtfully gives back to the school,” said Western President Dr. Paul Davenport.

In his thought-provoking lecture Alexander was critical of the so-called “living tree” approach to constitutional interpretation: “If ‘living tree’ justices depart from the authorially intended meanings, and the people accept these new judicial amendments as fundamental law, then we will have had several constitutional revolutions,” he said. “Several new constitutions, superficially resembling but actually different from one another, will have come into being through successive judicial amendments and popular acceptance of those amendments. But the real question is then whether the people are actually aware of what is going on. Is their acceptance itself dependent on their belief that the courts are not amending the constitution from the bench but are interpreting it?” he asked.

“If the game is interpretation,” he concluded, “all that can be interpreted are authored rules, and what those rules mean can only be what their authors meant by them. Anything else is reauthoring – that is, creating new rules. There is no ‘living tree’ constitutional interpretation. The only ‘living trees’ are the judges. So you’d better hope that they are well cultivated. And you may conclude that a bit of pruning is in order,” he said.

Larry Alexander is the Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of San Diego and the author of over 150 scholarly articles. His most recent books include IsThere a Right of Freedom of Expression? and The Demystification of Legal Reasoning (both Cambridge University Press).