Paul Brest


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Paul Brest (born c. 1940) is an American scholar of constitutional law, a former president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and a former dean of Stanford Law School. He is an influential theorist on the role of non-profit organizations in society, and is widely credited with coining the name originalism to describe a particular approach to interpreting the United States Constitution.

Brest received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College in 1962 and his Bachelor of Laws from Harvard Law School in 1965. Following law school, Brest clerked for Judge Bailey Aldrich of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and for Justice John Marshall Harlan II of the Supreme Court of the United States. He also practiced as a civil rights litigator with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Mississippi.

In 1969, Brest joined the faculty of Stanford Law School, serving as Dean of the law school from 1987 until 1999, when he voluntarily stepped down to become president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. His scholarship focuses on constitutional law and judgment and decision-making in law, and he is the author of the leading casebook, Processes of Constitutional Decision-Making.

Brest returned to Stanford Law School in 2012 and continues to teach courses on philanthropy, decision-making, and impact investing. He also directs numerous policy practicums through the Stanford Law and Policy Lab.

Between 1983 and 1984, Brest served as a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences; he is now the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Brest is also the faculty co-director of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and he serves as a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Brest is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is one of the 50 most-cited legal scholars of all-time and has published two of the 100 most-cited law review articles of all-time. Brest holds honorary degrees from Northwestern University School of Law and Swarthmore College. He served on the Creative Commons board of directors including time spent as its chair.

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