Everyone probably has their list of most underrated legal scholars. At the top of my list would stand Alec Stone Sweet. I have never met him, never taken a class with him, and wouldn’t recognize him if he walked into the GW faculty lounge on Monday. But I think his work is enormously important, and enormously good.
I say this for two reasons. First, he reestalblished a dormant field of legal scholarship, comparative constitutional law. I have written before about how comparative constitutional scholarship was a vibrant subject of academic writing for much of the history of American scholarship. This was true in the early years of political science, and in the eary years of constitutional scholarship. But in many ways it died down. Stone Sweet’s book on judicial politics in France was published in 1992, right around the time that scholars were becoming interested in comparative constitutional issues again (with the recent collapse of the Soviet Empire and the creation of new constitutions in Central and Eastern Europe), and his other writings around that time serve in many ways as the first generation of recent scholarship on these issues.
Second, his writings are part of increasingly important positive accounts of judicial behavior. He has written pieces about how courts come to exercise power, how they operate in different systems of judicial review, and so on. Again, these articles were part of the first generation of recent scholarship on another important area, positive political theory.
Yet, for some reason, when I mention his articles to many who write on constitutional issues, his name is not known to them. This is a shame.