Deborah Pearlstein is Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy. Her work on the U.S. Constitution, international law, and national security has appeared widely in law journals and the popular press, including the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the University of Michigan Law Review, the University of Texas Law Review, and the Georgetown Law Journal, as well as in The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Professor Pearlstein has repeatedly testified before Congress on topics from war powers to executive branch oversight. In 2021, she was appointed to the U.S. State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, a 9-member board of historians, political scientists, and U.S. foreign relations law experts who help ensure the timely declassification and publication of government records surrounding major events in U.S. foreign policy.
A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, Professor Pearlstein clerked for Judge Michael Boudin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, then for Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court. Following her clerkships, she practiced at the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson in San Francisco, earning the Voting Rights Award from the ACLU of Southern California for her litigation work on voting systems reform following the 2000 presidential election.
From 2003-2007, Professor Pearlstein served as the founding director of the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First, where she led the organization’s efforts in research, litigation and advocacy surrounding U.S. detention and interrogation operations, and served on the first team of independent military commission monitors to visit the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in 2004. In addition to developing impact litigation strategies and preparing multiple briefs amicus curiae to the U.S. Supreme Court, Pearlstein co-authored a series of reports on the human rights impact of U.S. national security policy, including Command’s Responsibility, which provided the first comprehensive accounting of detainee deaths in U.S. military custody and received extensive media attention worldwide. Throughout her tenure, Professor Pearlstein worked closely with members of the defense and intelligence communities, including in helping to bring together retired military leaders to address key policy challenges in U.S. counterterrorism operations.
After leaving law practice, Professor Pearlstein held an appointment as a research scholar in the Law and Public Affairs Program at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, as well as visiting appointments at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Georgetown University Law Center. She has since served as Chair of the AALS National Security Law Section, on the ABA's Advisory Committee on Law and National Security, and today serves on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed Journal of National Security Law and Policy.
Before embarking on a career in law, Pearlstein served in the White House from 1993 to 1995 as a Senior Editor and Speechwriter for President Clinton.
Lawyering the Presidency110 Geo. L. J. (forthcoming 2021)
The Executive Branch Anticanon )89 Fordham L. Rev. 597 (2020
Law at the End of War99 Minn. L. Rev. 143 (2014)
The Soldier, the State, and the Separation of Powers90 Tex. L. Rev. 797 (2012)
After Deference: Formalizing the Judicial Power in Foreign Relations Law159 U. Penn. L. Rev. 783 (2011)