University of Houston Law Center Logo

Cornell prof to argue for an interpretation of the First Amendment that promotes economic justice in Rosenberg Lecture at UH Law Center

Professor Nelson Tebbe

Professor Nelson Tebbe

Feb. 26, 2020 — A Cornell Law School professor will promote an understanding of the First Amendment that advances economic justice in his presentation of the annual Yale L. Rosenberg Lecture at the University of Houston Law Center March 3.

In his talk, “The First Amendment and Economic Inequality,” Professor Nelson Tebbe will argue that at a time of historic income and wealth disparity for millions of Americans, the Supreme Court is invoking First Amendment rights in order to strike down important economic protections that were enacted by the democratically elected representatives of the American people.

He will point to decisions such as the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (which relieved corporations of certain campaign finance laws) and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (which exempted a company from a contraceptive-coverage insurance regulation) in order to argue that the court has reverted to a discredited century-old practice known as “Lochnerism.”

Under that approach, the Supreme Court invalidated all kinds of economic and social regulation based on a broad view of what economic activity is protected by the Constitution.  During the New Deal, however, the court adopted a much more restrained view of its power to disapprove Congressional legislation.  This more deferential standard toward economic regulation has prevailed ever since.

Tebbe argues, however, that the new “First Amendment ‘Lochnerism’ ” threatens to bring back the days of the court’s over-intervention and to hinder legislative efforts to reduce economic inequality and to encourage broader participation in American democracy. He proposed an interpretation of freedom of speech and freedom of religion that requires certain forms of distributive justice as conditions for a healthy democracy.

Dean Leonard M. Baynes will moderate a discussion after the lecture. Commentators include:

  • Professor Aimee Chin, Department of Economics, University of Houston
  • Professor Nancy Beck Young, Department of History, University of Houston
  • Assistant Professor James D. Nelson, University of Houston Law Center

Tebbe teaches constitutional law, religious freedom, freedom of speech, legal theory, and professional responsibility. His scholarship focuses on constitutional law and political theory — in particular, the relationship between religious traditions and democratic governments.

Tebbe is the author of “Religious Freedom in an Egalitarian Age” (Harvard University Press, 2017), and coauthor of a case book, “Religious Liberty and Secular Government: Cases and Materials.” (West, 2018). His articles have appeared in numerous law reviews and he has published opinion pieces in various media outlets, including The New York Times. Before teaching, Tebbe clerked for Judge John M. Walker Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and practiced law at the American Civil Liberties Union and at Davis Polk & Wardwell. After college, he was a Fulbright Scholar studying at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. A graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University, Tebbe also holds a Ph.D. with distinction in the academic study of religion from the University of Chicago Divinity School.

The Yale L. Rosenberg Memorial Lecture will be at 6:30 p.m., March 3, in room 109 BLB of the University of Houston Law Center, 4604 Calhoun Road. Attendees earn .75 hour of CLE credit. Click here to register.

The Yale L. Rosenberg Memorial Fund was established to fund a student writing prize and to bring distinguished speakers to the Law Center. Rosenberg joined the University of Houston Law Center faculty in 1972 after a distinguished career in government. His teaching of Civil Procedure, Federal Jurisdiction, Professional Responsibility, and Jewish Law earned him the UH Teaching Excellence Award in 2000. An award-winning scholar, Rosenberg has been called "America's prophet" for his analysis of the decline of federal habeas corpus. An alumnus of Rice University, he graduated from New York University Law School in 1964.

To view and download COMPARATIVE AMERICAN AND TALMUDIC CRIMINAL LAW by Irene Merker Rosenberg and Yale L. Rosenberg, a book published electronically by the University of Houston Law Center, please visit:

Back to News Homepage