Heritage Mourns the Passing of Legal Scholar Ronald Rotunda

COMMENTARY The Constitution

Heritage Mourns the Passing of Legal Scholar Ronald Rotunda

Mar 15, 2018

Commentary By

Hans A. von Spakovsky @HvonSpakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative Manager, Senior Legal Fellow

Elizabeth Slattery @EHSlattery

Former Legal Fellow and Appellate Advocacy Program Manager

Ronald D. Rotunda speaking at the Heritage Foundation in 2008.

The Heritage Foundation mourns the passing of our good friend, Ronald D. Rotunda, a fellow conservative and an outstanding legal scholar. He will be sorely missed by all of us, and the legal community has lost one of its exceptional intellectual heavyweights. Ron had long been a leader in the fight to reestablish the rule of law and reinvigorate our adherence to the Constitution and an originalist understanding of constitutional interpretation.

Ron served as a distinguished professor of jurisprudence at the Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California. He was perhaps best known for authoring the leading treatise on the ethical and professional obligations of lawyers, “Legal Ethics – The Lawyer’s Deskbook on Professional Responsibility,” as well as the legal ethics case book, “Problems and Materials on Professional Responsibility” used by law schools throughout the nation. He was also well known for his expertise on constitutional law and his widely-used case book, “Modern Constitutional Law.” He wrote numerous other books and more than 500 articles appearing in law reviews, journals, and newspapers around the world.

But Ron wasn’t just a professor who served in the Ivory Towers of academia. He started his career serving as a counsel to the Senate’s Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities—better known as the Watergate investigation. He later advised Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr during his investigation of President Bill Clinton. Throughout his illustrious career, Ron helped advise newly formed democracies, such as Cambodia, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine, on how to draft and adopt their first democratic constitutions.

Ron taught at universities around the world, including in Belgium, Italy, Venezuela, and Germany, in addition to the law schools at the University of Alabama, the University of Illinois, and George Mason University, before joining the Chapman Law faculty in 2008. The University of Chicago Press named him one of the most influential law professors in a 2000 survey over the last several decades.

A regular feature on cable TV, Ron provided legal commentary that was as colorful as his signature bow ties—most recently on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. We will especially miss his keen sense of humor, which he displayed in both our personal dealings and in his commentary. 

Ron helped the Heritage Foundation develop the now well-known “Heritage Guide to the Constitution”—a clause-by-clause analysis of the most important governing charter in human history. He authored important essays for the Guide on Article I’s “Qualifications for Representatives” Clause and Article IV’s “Privileges and Immunities” Clause, in addition to serving on the Editorial Advisory Board that put the Guide together.

In his famous eulogy of George Washington, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee said that Washington was “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Distinguished Professor Ronald D. Rotunda was first in law, first in the Constitution, and first in the hearts of his many friends, admirers, and fellow conservatives.