Pamela Brandwein’s research fields include constitutional law and politics, civil rights, American political development, race and politics, and American political thought. Her work is united by an interest in the political and legal languages of antislavery, and her major projects have retraced discourses of race and rights obscured by twentieth century conventions. Likewise, her work attends to the rise, circulation, and impact of distorted legal-historical knowledge about the Civil War and Reconstruction. In general, her work combines American constitutional development and American politics.
She is the author of Reconstructing Reconstruction (Duke University Press, 1999), which examines the production and institutional establishment of an error-ridden account of the Fourteenth Amendment’s non/incorporation of the Bill of Rights, as well as the way this account rendered Warren Court rights expansions vulnerable to the charge that they were the result of “politics not law.” Her second book, Rethinking the Judicial Settlement of Reconstruction (Cambridge University Press, 2011), revises conventional wisdom about the Supreme Court’s “state action” doctrine, commonly viewed as an abandonment of blacks to Southern home rule. Unveiling a lost jurisprudence of rights that provided protections for black physical safety and black voting, even as it left public accommodation rights undefended, this law-and-politics treatment of the Reconstruction era unites new political history, close legal reading, and the study of political institutions.
She is currently working on a project that revisits questions about the relationship between antislavery and capitalism.