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Colker designated Distinguished University Professor

June 1, 2009 | Faculty

Ruth Colker, the Heck Faust Chair in Constitutional Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, is one of the most influential figures in the field of disability law in the United States. Her scholarly work has influenced the United States Supreme Court and the U.S. Congress alike. At the same time, she has contributed path-breaking empirical and theoretical scholarship to the field of disability legal studies and also has maintained a record of innovative teaching and substantial service.

Colker was recently designated a 2009 Distinguished University Professor, the University’s highest academic honor.

The Distinguished University Professor title is awarded permanently to no more than three exceptional faculty members a year. The title recognizes accomplishments in research, scholarly or creative work, teaching, and service that are both distinguished and distinctive.

“There are many ways to define scholarly excellence for a member of a law faculty, including influence in the courts, influence in the legislature and recognition by other legal academics,” Moritz Dean Alan Michaels wrote in his nomination of Colker. “Professor Colker has attained the pinnacle of our profession by attaining excellence in each of those areas.”

She published the first widely adopted casebook on the law of disability discrimination that still is the leading text in the field. She also authored an empirical article that documented the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protected far fewer Americans than the law had intended, and her work was cited many times during hearings that led up to significant amendments to the law in 2008.

Among her nominators, in fact, was Richard Thornburgh, who was U.S. Attorney General when the original law was passed in 1990 and has actively worked to maintain the law’s effectiveness.

When the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of the ADA’s government-activities provisions in 2004, Justice Stevens used an article co-authored by Colker to support the Court’s position that state laws protecting people with disabilities are inadequate.

“Many legal scholars dream that their scholarship will have an impact on a court’s decisions,” said Samuel R. Bagenstos, a professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, in his nomination of Colker. Professor Colker “has achieved not just that dream, but its apotheosis: Her scholarship has had an impact on a major constitutional decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Colker earned her bachelor’s and law degrees from Harvard University and served in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice before entering the academic field in 1985. She’s been at Ohio State since 1997, and in that time has been a University Distinguished Lecturer (2001), earned a Distinguished Diversity Enhancement Award (2002), and was named a University Distinguished Scholar (2003).

She is the first faculty member from the Moritz College of Law to earn the Distinguished University Professor designation.

“Professor Colker’s selection as Distinguished University Professor appropriately recognizes her breathtaking record of scholarship, and her outstanding teaching and service,” Michaels said. “Professor Colker’s path-breaking scholarship in the field of disability law has influenced courts, legislatures, and legal education, and Ohio State students have benefited from her innovative courses in the field while simultaneously providing valuable service to the community.”