Law Professors

Laurence Tribe Leaves DOJ Job, Cites Symptoms of Brain Tumor

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The Harvard constitutional law professor who took a leave of absence for a job with the Justice Department is stepping down due to recurring symptoms of a benign brain tumor.

Laurence Tribe will return to Harvard in January after serving as the Justice Department’s “senior counselor for access to justice” since March, according to the New York Times blog The Caucus and a Harvard Law School press release.

Tribe told the Times he was talking about his medical situation to avoid speculation that he was leaving due to a leaked memo advising President Obama that Sonia Sotomayor was “not as smart as she seems to think she is.” The memo, written before Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, backed Elena Kagan for her ability to persuade “a bunch of prima donnas to see things her way.”

Tribe plans to resume treatment of the tumor first diagnosed in 2008 and plans to return to teaching in the fall of 2011. The tumor is causing facial seizures and other symptoms.

Tribe told the Times he feels good about what he accomplished in his Justice Department job, although he has faced difficulties due to limited funding and the need for legislation. His office pushed programs to improve indigent defense, expand foreclosure mediation, and expand legal services for poor people in rural areas.

He cited one example of a “trivial” but memorable improvement, made at his suggestion. A Los Angeles courthouse changed a sign that read “unrepresented pro se litigants” to “people without lawyers.”

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