Honoring Scholarship and Public Service: Professor Michael Gerhardt Receives Thomas Jefferson Award

April 1, 2024

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has honored Professor Michael Gerhardt by naming him the recipient of the 2023 Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest accolade conferred by the University. This distinguished award is presented annually to faculty members who exemplify the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, encompassing scholarly excellence, advocacy for democracy, advancement of education, and a commitment to public service.

Interim UNC Chancellor Lee Roberts and Professor Michael Gerhardt

Established in 1961, the Thomas Jefferson Award pays tribute to one exceptional honoree within the UNC community of eminent scholars each year, commemorating the enduring legacy of the third U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson. Much like Jefferson’s pioneering efforts in empowering democratic processes through education, the award distinguishes individuals for their personal influence and outstanding contributions in teaching, writing, and scholarship, echoing the aspirational legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

The 2023 award specifically celebrates Gerhardt’s profound influence in academia and on the national stage. It applauds his extensive career dedicated to enhancing constitutional understanding, educating others, and significantly impacting legal appointments and interpretations crucial to American governance.

Throughout his illustrious career offering insights on constitutional theory, enlightening national leaders, and publishing on the linkages between legal infrastructure and human rights, Gerhardt’s collective works embody the noble intentions of the Thomas Jefferson Award. Nominating Professor Bill Marshall endorsed him as “one of the foremost authorities in the United States on constitutional law.”

Furthermore, fellow Jefferson Award honoree and nominating Professor Gene Nichol affirmed Gerhardt has “accomplished one of the singular records of public service ever seen in the American legal academy,” having “in a remarkable way, become the lawyer for the United States Congress – repeatedly serving as counsel, as an expert witness, as a sensible and learned advisor to members and committees in the most vital and controversial matters. In these times, that has required immense skill and courage.”

Expressing humility upon being selected for the 2023 Thomas Jefferson Award, Gerhardt conveyed appreciation – especially when considering the honor of following inspirational Carolina Law luminaries like Charles Daye ’04, Elizabeth Gibson ’16, and Gene Nichol in 2013.

Professor Michael Gerhardt accepting the 2023 Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest accolade conferred by the University.

In his acceptance of the award, he reflected on education’s primacy in Thomas Jefferson’s self-selected legacy. Through prolific scholarship – including eight acclaimed books and over a hundred articles thoroughly examining seminal constitutional events – and repeated counsel roles, Gerhardt actively sustains comprehension of the democratic infrastructure upholding the nation’s inherited freedoms.

In addition to an impressive volume of academic work advancing constitutional comprehension, his recurring role providing nonpartisan insight on major Supreme Court nominations and congressional conflicts has afforded Gerhardt remarkable opportunities to engage national audiences.

Through superlative research exploring constitutional theory, instructing generations of legal thinkers, and impacting our justice system at the highest levels, Gerhardt upholds the noblest intentions of namesake Thomas Jefferson. He works passionately to locus key democratic principles rooted in America’s founding documents. In Professor Marshall’s view, Michael Gerhardt’s embodiment of the Jefferson Award “ideals and objectives” is undeniable.

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of Carolina Law magazine.