Access to Justice

RELEASE: Constitutional Accountability Center Mourns The Passing Of Doug Kendall, Its Visionary President And Founder

Washington, DCDoug Kendall, progressive litigator, author, activist, non-profit entrepreneur – named a “Visionary” by the National Law Journal in 2011 – and founding president of Constitutional Accountability Center since June 2008, passed away today from complications of colon cancer. He was 51.

At a time when the conservative legal movement was ascendant – with luminaries such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dominating the debate over the meaning of the U.S. Constitution’s text and history – Doug Kendall saw a need and opportunity to secure a foundation for a progressive response. A decade ago, as leader of CAC’s predecessor organization, Community Rights Counsel (a public interest law firm focusing on environmental issues that he also founded), Kendall observed that conservative advocates regularly used the Constitution’s text and history to appeal to the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, as well as to deploy their version of originalism in debates over national policy and judicial nominations. In the wake of landmark victories in environmental cases including Massachusetts v. EPA, Kendall immersed himself in the thesis of Yale Law School Professor Akhil Amar, that the text and history of the whole Constitution point our Nation and its courts in a progressive direction.

Amar’s scholarship, together with the groundbreaking work of Yale Law School Professor Jack Balkin, provided Kendall a North Star and a new mission: to show that the Constitution’s text and history secure the promise of, and in fact require, racial and gender equality, marriage equality, ballot access, a robust federal government, and equal citizenship at birth. Kendall wanted America to know the Constitution’s whole story, from the Founders’ decision to create a national government with the power to solve national problems, to later generations’ decision to end slavery and enshrine in the Constitution the principle of equal protection, as well as their determination to expand the right to vote to African Americans, women, and young adults. Kendall launched Constitutional Accountability Center, declaring “The Constitution is, in its most vital respects, a progressive document.” Under Kendall’s leadership, CAC has produced original scholarship on the text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment’s key clauses, the history of corporate personhood, and the gradual demise of stale debates between so-called “living constitutionalism” and “original intent.” Kendall called on all sides to replace those debates with a search for the objective meaning of the Constitution’s text – an approach he called New Textualism.

With this and other essential work produced by CAC providing an intellectual foundation, Kendall helped develop a litigation strategy that put CAC in the middle of one major Supreme Court case and national issue after another. CAC has defended and continues to defend the Affordable Care Act (most recently on behalf of the Act’s congressional authors and champions in King v. Burwell), the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, marriage equality, federal immigration laws, environmental protection laws, affirmative action in higher education, access to courts, campaign finance reform, and cell phone privacy, among many other issues.

Kendall’s significant body of work did not end there.  In addition to launching projects such as the five-year celebration of the three Amendments to the Constitution ratified following the Civil War, America’s Second Founding, he worked hard to help build a more progressive federal judiciary, successfully urging the nomination and confirmation of the best and the brightest, while opposing nominees who would turn back the clock on Americans’ rights and interests.

Win or lose – and CAC continues to help win many cases before this Supreme Court – Doug Kendall’s mark has been left on a variety of fundamental issues and questions, whose answers affect Americans every day of their lives. As Professor Amar said of Kendall’s advocacy, “He took an idea and operationalized it. He made it three dimensional.”

Douglas Townsend Kendall was born in New Jersey on July 3, 1964. He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia, and then became an associate at the law firm of Crowell and Moring.  He left Crowell after several years in order to to do public interest work at the National Environmental Trust, and then struck out on his own by founding Community Rights Counsel.

At law school, Kendall forged a close friendship with current CAC Board member James E. Ryan, now Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Ryan said, “The thoughts of everyone at CAC are with Doug’s wife Juliet and his daughter Miracle today, and we share the burden of their loss. He was not only our colleague, but also our dear friend whose impact on this world is hard to overstate. He was a force of nature – smart, deeply perceptive, and extremely talented. We’ll miss him more than words can express.”

CAC Board Chair Eldie Acheson said, “The Board and staff of CAC are beyond sad at Doug’s passing and our loss. He was charismatic in his leadership and compelling in his creativity and contributions to revealing the Constitution as the keystone of a progressive, inclusive society. In addition to being an outstanding constitutional lawyer, Doug built a strong organization in CAC from the ground up, and in his professional life there is nothing he valued more than CAC’s future. He knew that CAC and the work we do here would be part of his legacy, and he put an outstanding team in place that will carry that work forward. We have filed briefs in no fewer than six Supreme Court cases so far in the upcoming Term, and we continue to work with our partners at the National Constitution Center to celebrate the 150th anniversary of our Nation’s Second Founding. There is no better way for us to honor Doug’s life than by continuing his life’s work, building on his extraordinary vision for the arc of our Constitution’s progress.”


Constitutional Accountability Center ( is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history.


Reported obituaries

* “Doug Kendall, Liberal Who Challenged Supreme Court’s Conservatives, Dies at 51,” New York Times, Wednesday, September 30, 2015.

* “Doug Kendall, lawyer who saw the Constitution as progressive, dies at 51,” Washington Post, Tuesday, September 29, 2015.

* “Doug Kendall, Visionary Progressive Lawyer, Dies at 51,” National Law Journal, Monday, September 28, 2015.

* “Doug Kendall, Advocate for Nation’s Progressive Roots, Dies,” Associated Press, Saturday, September 26, 2015.


* “Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the Life of Doug Kendall,” Office of Senator Leahy, October 2, 2015.

* “The Man Who Changed The Way Liberals Talk About The Constitution Died This Weekend,” Ian Millhiser, ThinkProgress, September 28, 2015.

* “The Passing of a ‘Progressive Originalist’,” Ilya Shapiro, Cato at Liberty, September 28, 2015.

* “The Progressive Legal Community Loses A Dynamic Leader,” American Constitution Society, September 28, 2015.

* “Doug Kendall RIP,” Randy Barnett,  Volokh Conspiracy, September 27, 2015.

* “Doug Kendall, Patriot and Visionary,” Jack Balkin, Balkinization, September 26, 2015.

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