Paul Finkelman (photo by David Stobbe).

Born in the USA

Have you ever wanted to know more about the American Civil War? Or maybe whether or not Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen of the United States? Ever wondered about who owns Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run ball?

If so, Paul Finkelman is the one to talk to. And until at least the end of 2016, he can be found at the U of S College of Law.

Ranked as the fifth most cited legal historian by Brian Leieter's Law School Rankings, Finkelman is the author of more than 200 scholarly articles and more than 40 books. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Huffington Post, and he has been cited four times by the United States Supreme Court.

So what drew him to the University of Saskatchewan to take up the Ariel Sallows Chair in Human Rights?

"The Ariel Sallows Chair is a well-known chair that has been held by many important scholars and activists," Finkleman explained. "Most of my scholarship has been on issues of race, ethnicity, religious freedom, slavery and human dignity, so the goals of the chair align perfectly with my own interests and scholarship."

Growing up about 30 kilometres south of the Canadian border and often visiting Canadian relatives also added to Finkelman's motivation to teach and research up north.

"This is an opportunity to learn from being in Canada, and enrich my own understanding of law and its role in democratic culture," said Finkelman. "Canada is very much like the U.S., but also very different. I am particularly interested in learning how Canada balanced freedom of speech and freedom of religion in a democratic political culture within its Charter of Rights—something quite different from what the U.S. has."

One of the main differences between the U.S. and Canada, he was told, would be the weather. "The first thing I did was buy a warmer pair of gloves," he said with a laugh.

Lucky for Finkelman, it was a mild winter in Saskatoon. He was more surprised by the complexity of the university's underground walkways. "Having been to the U of S before, I knew the campus was impressive and at the same time, compact enough to be user friendly. On the other hand, I found, and still find, the tunnel system to be a challenge," he said with a chuckle.

Since arriving at the College of Law, Finkelman has been full-steam ahead, completing a revision of his book Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History, and a fifth edition of his casebook American Legal History. The rest of his time will be devoted to writing a book on the history of how the U.S. Supreme Court adjudicated cases involving slavery, creating a legal history of Jews in the U.S. and writing an article on the way the early American Supreme Court treated American Indians.

In September, Finkelman will host a conference in honour of the Honourable Irwin Cotler, PC, entitled "Human Rights Law in the Twenty-First Century." The event will cover a variety of issues that are of interest to the international human rights community including rights of the disabled, human trafficking, the conditions of prisons and how education is a human rights issue.

With each project, article and conference, Finkelman hopes he can help enhance the reputation of the College of Law.

"This is a terrific university with an important law school. But it is less well known than it should be," he observed. "The faculty has much to offer and the students here will make a significant impact on the world. The college has honoured me by giving me this chair, and so I want to honour the college by helping the larger world of legal academics and lawyers understand just how good the U of S College of Law really is."


Sarah Trefiak is a communications and alumni relations officer in the College of Law.
Share this story