Published: April 19, 2021

Akhil Reed AmarAkhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, will deliver the University of Colorado Law School’s 63rd annual John R. Coen Lecture on April 22, 2021. The title of the lecture, which will be held virtually, is "America's First Peaceful (Just Barely!) Transfer of Power."

Amar will feature excerpts from his new book, The Words That Made Us: America’s Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840, and discuss how Thomas Jefferson came to succeed John Adams as president of the United States. The story is particularly apt for modern-day citizens of Colorado, a state that was once part of an unofficial territory named for Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson’s assumption of office is often described as the model of a peaceful transfer of power from one presidential party to another—indeed, the modern world’s first exemplar of a peaceful transfer in a proper democracy. The events of 1798-1801 were far more fraught than is generally understood today and in myriad respects cast an eerie light on the not entirely peaceful transfer of presidential power following the 2020 election.

Amar teaches constitutional law in both Yale College and Yale Law School. His work has won awards from both the American Bar Association and the Federalist Society, and he has been cited by Supreme Court justices across the spectrum in more than three dozen cases.

After graduating from Yale College, summa cum laude, in 1980 and from Yale Law School in 1984, and clerking for then Judge (now Justice) Stephen Breyer, Amar joined the Yale faculty in 1985 at the age of 26. Amar regularly testifies before Congress at the invitation of both parties; and in surveys of judicial citations and/or scholarly citations, he invariably ranks among America’s five most-cited mid-career legal scholars. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a recipient of the American Bar Foundation’s Outstanding Scholar Award.

He has written widely for popular publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and The Atlantic. He was an informal consultant to the popular TV show, The West Wing, and his constitutional scholarship has been showcased on a wide range of broadcasts, including The Colbert Report, Up with Chris Hayes, Tucker Carlson Tonight, Morning Joe, AC360, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 11th Hour with Brian Williams, Fox News @Night with Shannon Bream, Fareed Zakaria GPS, Erin Burnett Outfront, and Constitution USA with Peter Sagal.

He is the author of more than 100 law review articles and several books, most notably The Bill of Rights (1998 — winner of the Yale University Press Governors’ Award), America’s Constitution (2005 — winner of the ABA’s Silver Gavel Award), America’s Unwritten Constitution (2012 — named one of the year’s 100 best nonfiction books by The Washington Post), and The Constitution Today (2016 — named one of the year’s top ten nonfiction books by Time magazine). His latest and most ambitious book, The Words That Made Us: America’s Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840, is due out in May 2021. He has recently launched a weekly podcast, Amarica’s Constitution. A wide assortment of his articles and op-eds and video links to many of his public lectures and free online courses may be found at  

The Coen lectureship was established in 1955 in memory of John Coen, a distinguished member of the Colorado bar and an able public speaker. The lectureship seeks to bring a prominent and distinguished lawyer, jurist, or scholar of law to deliver an annual lecture to Colorado Law’s students, faculty, and alumni on a legal subject of interest and benefit to the profession, preferably with some public or political aspect.

Event information

Who: Open to the public
What: 63rd annual Coen Lecture: "America's First Peaceful (Just Barely!) Transfer of Power"
When: Thursday, April 22, 2020, 5:30-6:30 p.m. MT
Where: Virtual
Cost: Free; registration required.
CLE credit: 1 general CLE credit pending.