Tom Burke

Ralph Emerson and Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of Political Science

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

I'm the co-editor, with Jeb Barnes (USC), of Varieties of Legal Order (Routledge Press, 2017), in which leading Law and Society scholars examine the politics of litigation and regulation; the co-author, with Lief Carter (Colorado College), of the 9th edition of Reason in Law (University of Chicago Press, 2016), a critical analysis of the rhetorical techniques of judges and of the interaction of law and politics; and co-author with Prof. Barnes of How Policy Shapes Politics (Oxford University Press, 2015), which probes the political consequences of using courts and litigation in public policy.

Recent publications include "The Civil Rights Template and the Americans with Disabilities Act" (in Lynda Dodd, ed., The Rights Revolution Revisited, 2018), "Layering, Kludgeocracy and Disability Rights" (Social Policy and Society, 2017), and an article for the Washington Post (2015) on why it's so hard to reform disability insurance programs.

My first book was Lawyers, Lawsuits and Legal Rights: The Struggle Over Litigation in American Society (University of California Press, 2002). The dissertation on which that book was based won the 1996 Edwin S. Corwin Award from the American Political Science Association for best dissertation in the field of public law.

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 as much as possible to run and bicycle, both on and off-road, and even on ice and snow during miserable New England winters. I love fine 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. And I spend a lot of time these days with Aria, my delightful 4-year old daughter.

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  • B.A., University of Minnesota (Minneapolis)
  • M.A., University of California (Berkeley)
  • Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)