Laurence Tribe

Carl M. Loeb University Professor & Professor of Constitutional Law

Larry was born to Russian Jewish refugees in Shanghai a couple months before the Japanese occupied the city and bombed Pearl Harbor on the same day. His father, though born ne ...read more

Larry was born to Russian Jewish refugees in Shanghai a couple months before the Japanese occupied the city and bombed Pearl Harbor on the same day. His father, though born near Minsk, had in the meantime become a U.S. citizen and thus was hustled off to a prison camp by the Japanese as an enemy alien. So Larry and his Mom fended for themselves for several years in the French Quarter, where they survived just fine though in pretty lousy circumstances. Larry was about five at the time, but still recalls the sycamore trees that graced the streets — a memory echoed by the sycamores along the Charles River near Harvard today.

After the Allies defeated Japan and Larry's father was released from prison, the family made their way to San Francisco in the hold of a troop ship, the S.S. General Gordon. Larry, who wasn't yet six, often got lost wandering around the ship (a skill he still has). He attended public schools in San Francisco, but hardly spoke a word outside of home until the age of 7. That was because when he arrived in the U.S., Larry knew only Russian and the other kids bullied and made fun of him as the foreign Jew in the class. So Larry retreated into art as a refuge, painted a large mural depicting the path of human progress, and drew an endless stream of landscapes, boulderscapes, seascapes,and treescapes, as well as things more surreal. That mural, done in 7th grade, wasn’t at all bad and still hangs on a wall in the library of Aptos middle school. In their new American life, Larry's dad was a car salesman, his mom a dental assistant. Larry was the first in his family to attend college, which began at Harvard on a full scholarship at 16. He continued in art but also loved and excelled at math, taking graduate courses starting in his sophomore year. On graduating from college (Summa in math, specializing in algebraic topology), he spent a year on an NSF Fellowship, finishing all but a doctoral dissertation before deciding to abandon the field. Then came the Harvard Law School, a couple of clerkships (California Supreme Court, then U.S. Supreme Court), then a year at the National Academy of Sciences, where he wrote a book on technological assessment and forecasting.

Larry accepted an offer to teach at Harvard Law at a young age, turning down a competing offer from Yale. A rapidly ascending and increasingly celebrated career combining teaching, writing a number of widely acclaimed books and articles, and doing lots of Supreme Court litigation, much of it in support of human rights causes. He became a University Professor in 2004, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, spent a year as Obama’s first senior counselor for access to justice in DC, and still loves teaching and thinking about how to synthesize his continuing interests in and love for art, mathematics, and law. 

He is proudest of his two adult kids and four remarkable and beautiful grandkids and time spent with the love of his life, his editor and muse, Elizabeth Westling. Larry and Elizabeth met under a decade ago when both her long marriage and his were dissolving. They plan to spend the rest of their lives together.

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Laurence Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor & Professor of Constitutional Law (EG11)

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