Tom Burke square portrait, 2012
(781) 283-2441
Political Science
B.A., University of Minnesota (Minneapolis); M.A., Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)
Tom Burke
Professor of Political Science

Research focuses on the role of courts, rights, and litigation in public policy and politics.

For 2014-2015 I am on leave as a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.  It is best to reach me at my email address,

My new book, How Policy Shapes Politics (Oxford University Press, 2015) with co-author Jeb Barnes (USC), examines the political consequences of using courts and litigation in public policy.  I am currently working with co-author Lief Carter on the 9th edition of Reason in Law, to be published in 2016 by University of Chicago Press.  Recent publications include "Kagan the Explorer" (Judicature, 2013), "From the Courthouse to the Chalkboard" (Tulsa Law Review), and “Making Way: Legal Mobilization, Organizational Response, and Wheelchair Access” (Law and Society Review, 2012).  I have written about the Americans with Disabilities Act, disability politics in the European Union, American campaign finance law, First Amendment law, and the role of rights in American politics. I am the co-author, with Lief Carter, of several editions of Reason in Law, and the author of Lawyers, Lawsuits and Legal Rights: The Struggle Over Litigation in American Society (University of California Press, 2002).

I was recently elected as a trustee of the Law and Society Association, whose scholars, journals and conferences have profoundly influenced my research and teaching.  

At Wellesley I teach “Courts, Law, and Politics,” an introduction to the American legal system from a law and society perspective; “Introduction to American Politics,” in which I emphasize a comparative and historical focus; "Public Policymaking in American Politics,"  which brings together all the institutions and processes that shape public policy in the U.S.; “Health Politics and Policy,” a course that probes the causes and consequences of the distinctive path of the United States in health policy; and "Democracy in America," a first year seminar that uses Alexis de Tocqueville's masterpiece of the same name to examine some fundamental questions about politics.  Alongside my colleague Nancy Scherer, I help advise the roughly 8-10% of Wellesley students who (at least historically) attend law school.

I try to be on a bicycle as much as possible, both on and off-road, and even on ice and snow during miserable New England winters.  I love good wine, with a particular interest in German Riesling and California Zinfandel, though I’ll drink pretty much anything good if you offer it to me.

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