Emeritus Professor Burton Wechsler
1924 - 2004
Photograph of Professor Weschler

Professor Wechsler came to the Washington College of Law as a visitng professor in 1978, and became a full-time faculty member in the fall of 1979. He retired in May 1998. He taught Constitutional Law, Federal Courts and First Amendment Law. Burt Wechsler died in 2004.

Wechsler was the recipient of the Alumni Distinguished Teacher Award; the Outstanding Teacher Award of American University Washington College of Law in 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992; the Third-year Class Outstanding Teacher Award in 1994 and 1996 and the Outstanding Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1995. He also founded the Burton Wechsler Moot Court Competition in 1993.

Professor Wechsler was a champion of the First Amendment since beginning his practice of law in 1948. In private practice and in pro bono cases, Professor Wechsler represented a variety of interests - citizens charged with contempt of Congress by the House Un-American Activities Committee; anti-Vietnam War protesters seeking to demonstrate in public parks; peace activists challenging anti-leafleting ordinances; anti-nuclear demonstrators who camp in Washington's Lafayette Park and Playboy magazine.

"In my courses, I emphasize the need to think critically about law, history, and the judicial system; to understand that law is not and cannot be neutral; that much law is about redistribution or who gets what in a society or who is favored and who is not; that law is interlocked with history, culture, mores, and domination and the resistance to that domination. Accordingly, substantial portions of my courses include the ongoing struggles-in and out of the law-of working people, ethnic and religious minorities, women, creative artists, political dissidents, the poor, and other groups who do not occupy the seats of power, private or public, and whom much of our law throughout our history has slighted or disfavored."

- Burton D. Wechsler

Curriculum Vitae

A.B., University of Michigan, 1947
J.D., Harvard Law School, 1949

Representative Professional Activities & Achievements

  • Alumni Distinguished Teacher Award
  • Outstanding Teacher Award of American University, Washington College of Law, 1992, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1984, 1980, 1979
  • Burton Wechsler Moot Court Competition, 1993
  • Third-year class Outstanding 'Teacher Award, 1996, 1994
  • Outstanding Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching, 1995
  • Editor, Abortion Law Reporter
  • Author: "Federal Courts, State Criminal Law, and the First Amendment," New York Law Review; "Justice Douglas, A Tribute," Anlioch Law Journal


Chapters and Other Contributions to Collective Works
"Younger v. Harris, Federalism and Fairy Tales," in Taking Ideals Seriously: The Case for a Lawyers' Public Interest Movement, Robert Ellis (ed.), Washington, DC: The Equal Justice Foundation (1984).

Articles and Other Contributions to Periodicals
"A Tribute to Justice Douglas," 1 Antioch Law Journal 1 (1981).

"Federal Courts, State Criminal Law and the First Amendment," 49 New York University Law Review 740 (1974).

Book Review: The Petitioners: The Story of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Negro. 1 Valparaiso Law Review 179 (1966).

"Inter vivos Estate Trust," 103 Trusts and Estates 1192 (1964).


On May 2, 1998, the WCL community celebrated the part that Burt has played in many of our lives. This short biography has been reprinted and modified from the program for that celebration.

    Upon graduating from Harvard Law School in 1949, Professor Wechsler returned to the Midwest to practice law. His practice involved estate planning and by all accounts he was uncommonly good at it. His firm dominated that branch of law, and in his first teaching position at the Valparaiso Law School in 1957 he taught tax and estate planning. Despite the demands of law practice and teaching, Burt served as a leader and indefatigable worker in countless progressive causes in Lake County, Indiana from the 1940's until the early 1970's. He was active in the Wallace for President campaign in 1948 and was a catalyst in the movement to dismantle segregation in Gary. In the 1960's he went to Mississippi to join the civil rights struggle there. He returned to Indiana to help plan and organize the election of Richard Gordon Hatcher as the first African-American mayor of a major United States city. Throughout these decades, he gave countless hours to legal battles on behalf of organizations like the NAACP, Indiana Civil Liberties Union, Project Justice and Equality, the Lake County Committee to End the War in Vietnam, Indiana Welfare Rights Organization, and many others. Both friends and foes attest to his skill, energy, ability to motivate others, and his courage and tenacity.

    Professor Wechsler and his family moved to Washington in 1973, and he began teaching at Antioch Law School. This was at the end of its first year, which had been tumultuous to a legendary degree. He joined a reconstructed faculty comprised primarily of young and inexperienced teachers. As an experienced teacher and a charismatic personality, Professor Wechsler immediately assumed a place of leadership at Antioch. He taught Constitutional Law, Federal Courts and the First Amendment. His teaching style was always animated, compassionate and broadly informed. He set standards of academic performance at the school. He also started and ran the School's Women's Law Clinic that was involved in several major federal law suits. When he left Antioch, he left a legacy of progressive activism that influenced students, his faculty colleagues and the institution itself.

    In 1978, Professor Wechsler came to American University's Washington College of Law where he continued to teach Constitutional Law, First Amendment and Federal Courts, a course he later renamed: "Holding to Account Those Who Govern." Over his twenty years teaching at WCL, Professor Wechsler became a legend at the law school. In every course, he learned the first names of his students, even when teaching large lecture classes. He energized his students with a dynamic and animated teaching style. Clenching his fist, he roamed the aisles of his class while dissecting Supreme Court decisions and debating his students on critical issues of constitutional law. In recognition of his devotion to free expression, the school established the Burton D. Wechsler First Amendment Moot Court Competition.

    He repeatedly won the Outstanding Teacher Award as well as other teaching honors. In 1995, Professor Wechsler was honored with the Outstanding Teacher Award of American University. In presenting this award, President Ladner described Professor Wechsler's teaching style as "electric, inclusive and confidence building."

    Apart from classroom teaching, Professor Wechsler spent an extraordinary amount of time individually with his students. He helped them with school papers, law review articles and career plans. In this process, he influenced a generation of students to enter public interest law. He regularly fielded calls from former students regarding constitutional litigation.

    Professor Wechsler was an especially treasured colleague among his fellow faculty and the staff here at AU. His warmth and compassion suffused the entire AU community. In the hallways and mail room, the familiar cry of "Hey Lefty" was a welcome greeting which lifted the spirits of everyone he encountered. The Wechsler pantry with its bountiful stock of figs, M&M's and matzoh nourished many a colleague and Dean's Fellow working late into the night.