William Eskridge, Jr.

John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence

Professor William N. Eskridge, Jr. is the John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School. His primary legal academic interest has been statutory interpretation. Together with Professor Philip Frickey, he developed an innovative casebook on Legislation. In 1990-95, Professor Eskridge represented a gay couple suing for recognition of their same-sex marriage. Since then, he has published a field-establishing casebook, three monographs, and dozens of law review articles articulating a legal and political framework for proper state treatment of sexual and gender minorities.  


Contact Information

Yale Law School

P.O. Box 208215

New Haven, CT 06520

Education & Curriculum Vitae

J.D., Yale Law School, 1978

M.A., Harvard University, 1974

B.A., Davidson College, 1973

Courses Taught

  • Constitutional Law
  • Legislation
  • Sexuality, Gender, and the Law
  • Theories of Statutory Interpretation
  • Introduction to the Regulatory State

Born and raised in Princeton, West Virginia in 1951, Professor Eskridge is the son of William Nichol and Elizabeth DeJarnette Eskridge. He received his B.A., summa cum laude, from Davidson College in 1973 and his Masters in History from Harvard University in 1974. His Honors thesis at Davidson focused on the fideism of Hugenot exile Pierre Bayle (1647-1715). At Harvard, his primary Masters thesis analyzed the political thought of the Marian exiles (1553-58). Professor Eskridge earned his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was the Note & Topics Editor of The Yale Law Journal (1977-78). After clerking for Judge Edward Weinfeld and practicing law at Shea & Gardner, he became a law professor. His primary academic homes have been the Georgetown University Law Center (1987-98) and the Yale Law School (1998-present), but Professor Eskridge has also taught at NYU, Stanford, Toronto, Harvard, Columbia, Virginia, and Vanderbilt. His primary legal academic interest has been statutory interpretation. Together, Professor Eskridge and Professor Philip Frickey (a friend from Shea & Gardner) developed an innovative casebook on Legislation. Professor Eskridge has also published a monograph and several dozen law review articles (many with Frickey) on statutory interpretation theory and practice. Professors Eskridge and Frickey's project has been to understand the dynamics of statutory evolution, and the proper methodology judges should apply when construing statutes. In 1990-95, Professor Eskridge represented a gay couple suing for recognition of their same-sex marriage.  Since then, he has published a field-establishing casebook, three monographs, and dozens of law review articles articulating a legal and political framework for proper state treatment of sexual and gender minorities.  The historical materials in his book on Gaylaw formed the basis for an amicus brief he drafted for the Cato Institute and for much of the Court’s (and the dissenting opinion’s) analysis in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which invalidated consensual sodomy laws.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Conference to Be Held on Obergefell Decision

At an event titled “What Obergefell v. Hodges Should Have Said,” preeminent law scholars will rewrite the Supreme Court landmark opinion upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry. The conference will take place on April 15, 2016, at 1:15 p.m. in Room 127.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Student’s Arctic Trip Emphasizes Need for Climate Law

In July and August of 2015, Joanna Dafoe ’17 JD/MBA joined a Students on Ice trip as a member of the staff during a trip to the Arctic regions of Greenland and Canada.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Student Clinic Works to Prepare Historic Proposition 8 Case for High Court

Students from Yale Law School’s San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) describe their experiences working on landmark same-sex marriage case.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Yale Law School Professors, Alumni Submit Amicus Briefs in Hollingsworth v. Perry

Yale Law School faculty discuss filing legal briefs in Hollingsworth v. Perry case, which will go before the Supreme Court on March 26, 2013.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reaction: Supreme Court Rules on Health Care Law

Yale Law School faculty members and lecturers comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on the health care law.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pregnancy Discrimination Act Symposium Nov. 7-8

PDA symposium also marks 20th anniversary of The Yale Journal of Law and Feminism


A Republic of Statutes: The New American Constitution  (Yale University Press, 2010)

Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse? (Oxford, 2006) (co-authored with Darren Spedale)

Equality Practice: Civil Unions and the Future of Gay Rights (Routledge, 2002)

Gaylaw: Challenging the Apartheid of the Closet (Harvard, 1999)

Constitutional Stupidities, Constitutional Tragedies (NYU, 1998) (co-authored and edited with Sanford Levinson)

Sexuality, Gender, and Law (Foundation, 1997; 2d ed. 2004; paper ed. 2005) (co-authored and edited with Nan Hunter)

The Case for Same-Sex Marriage (Free Press, 1996)

Cases and Materials on Constitutional Law: Themes for the Constitution’s Third Century (West, 1993; 2d ed. 1998; 3d ed. 2003) (co-edited with Daniel Farber and Philip Frickey)

Hart and Sacks, The Legal Process: Problems in the Making and Application of Law (Foundation, 1994) (co-authored and edited with Philip Frickey)

Dynamic Statutory Interpretation (Harvard, 1994)

Cases and Materials on Legislation: Statutes and the Creation of Public Policy (West, 1987; 2d ed. 1994; 3d ed. 2001) (co-edited with Philip Frickey and, after 2001, Elizabeth Garrett)

A Dance Along the Precipice: Political and Economic Dimensions of the International Debt Problem (Lexington, 1985) (editor and contributor)


Current Book Projects

Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse? (Oxford,  2006).   This recently published book, which Professor Eskridge co-authored with Fulbright Scholar Darren Spedale, updates the same-sex marriage debate to take account of the new argument against same-sex marriage, to wit: same-sex marriage in Scandinavia has destroyed the institution in those countries, and left children to be raised without married parents. Eskridge and Spedale found this:  Long in decline, with soaring divorce and non-marital birth rates, Danish marriage has actually rebounded since Denmark recognized same-sex partnerships in 1989.  Less dramatic evidence from Norway and Sweden runs in the same direction. The authors' evidence refutes this argument, made by such prominent anti-marriage intellectuals as Judge Robert Bork, Representative Tom DeLay, and Senator Rick Santorum, and also suggests that these advocates are themselves undermining marriage and “traditional family values.”  But the Scandinavian experience suggests sobering lessons for gay activists as well.   Same-sex marriage ought not be imposed by judicial fiat, but only through a process that includes legislative and popular feedback. More important, even gay-tolerant jurisdictions (like Denmark in 1989) may require an intermediate institution (like registered partnerships or civil unions) before they can handle gay marriage.

Sodomy, an Intimate History (Viking and Penguin, forthcoming 2007).   This book is a social, intellectual, political, and legal history of sodomy laws in the United States, from the Civil War to the present.  For most of American history, these laws were understood to target coercive sexual assault by aggressive men against children, women, and sometimes other men; these laws were rarely enforced against private sexual activities between consenting adults.  But since the 1870s, traditional values activists (from Anthony Comstock to Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell) have periodically made consensual sodomy the object of public campaigns of purification. By the mid-twentieth century, these laws were associated with “homosexuals and other sex perverts,” and moralists (ranging from J. Edgar Hoover to Earl Warren) deployed sodomy laws to inaugurate an anti-homosexual terror unprecedented in American history.   America’s perennial body politics, pitting moralistic themes of disgust and impurity against themes of sexual tolerance and equal citizenship, has in the last generation focused on homosexuals.  Although the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision striking down Texas’s homosexual sodomy law seemed to be a breakthrough for gay rights, that decision is better read as a signpost that the body politics debate has shifted, away from private sex between consenting adults, and toward marriage and family.

Super-Statutes, The New American Constitutionalism (Yale, forthcoming 2007).   Co-authored with political scientist John Ferejohn of Stanford’s Hoover Institute, this project explores the constitutional role of legislatures and agencies from a different angle—super-statutes.  A super-statute is a law or series of laws that (1) seek to introduce or consolidate a norm or principle as fundamental in our polity, (2) over time do “stick” in the public culture even as the norm evolves through a series of debates and even conflicts about its elaboration or specification, (3) such that the super-statute and its normative principle have a broad effect on the law—including effects beyond the four corners of the statute.  Examples of such statutes include the Sherman Act of 1890, the Social Security Act of 1935, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Super-statutes and related phenomena have given rise to what we call a New American Constitutionalism.   Unlike the standard account of American constitutionalism, this new constitutionalism maintains that many important changes in public norms and constitutional principles occur outside of the Article V process for changing the Constitution, are developed in legislatures and agencies rather than in courts, and are incremental and continuous rather than dramatic and episodic.   The authors defend the normative superiority of the new American constitutionalism and explore some of its ramifications for the operation of public law in the new millennium.

Legislative Materials

Senate Office of the Legislative Counsel, Legislative Drafting Manual (1997)