David Berg Foundation Scholar
Academic Year 2013-2014
Jeremy K. Kessler is a Ph.D. candidate in legal history at Yale University. In 2013, he received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was a Legal History Fellow and Executive Editor of the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities. Kessler has also received an M.Phil. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge, and a B.A., summa cum laude, from Yale College. Before coming to the Tikvah Center, Kessler was a Graduate Fellow at Cardozo School of Law and a Middleton Fellow in Presidential Studies at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. His article, “The Invention of a Human Right: Conscientious Objection at the United Nations, 1947-2011,” has recently appeared in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. Kessler has also written for The New Republic, The New Atlantis, n+1, and Bookforum.
My dissertation tracks two generations of American lawyers whose interactions with conscientious objectors led them to reconstruct the relationship between religious practice, political speech, and the secular state. Conscientious objection stands at the intersection of two dominant trends in twentieth-century American law: the growth of the administrative state and the proliferation of civil liberties. At first blush, these two trends seem contradictory, both expanding and contracting state power. My dissertation tells a different story, one in which a group of largely Jewish state-builders created modern civil liberties law to manage the tension between majoritarian decision-making and a pluralistic polity, and thereby extend and re-enforce, rather than restrain, state power. As a Tikvah Scholar-in-Residence, I plan to focus on the relationship between Felix Frankfurter’s controversial campaign for peacetime conscription in the 1930s and his ongoing defense of the rights of conscience. I will consider how competing strands of Jewish legal and political thought in this period complicated Frankfurter’s effort to harmonize conscience and conscription.