Nielson Wins Federalist Society’s 2021 Story Award

Professor Aaron Nielson has won the Federalist Society’s 2021 Joseph Story Award, which recognizes a young academic who has demonstrated excellence in legal scholarship, a commitment to teaching, a concern for students, and who has made a significant public impact in a manner that advances the rule of law in a free society, the group announced March 20.

“Professor Nielson exemplifies all of the characteristics of a winner of the Joseph Story Award, in other words, . . . a budding “lawyer’s Everyman,” said Grant Strobl, a student at the University of Chicago Law School and the 2021 Joseph Story Award Chair. “Professor Nielson is the embodiment of excellence in legal scholarship. He has written dozens of articles on administrative law, including widely cited pieces on deference and a thoughtful piece on the upside of ossification—what he calls “sticky regulations.’” In describing Nielson’s outstanding character and commitment to his students, Strobl related, “One student said ‘[h]is door has always been open to me and . . . my peers, and . . . he eagerly helps all students secure employment, understand the law, or rediscover hope. When the father of one of [this student’s] friends and fellow classmates passed away of cancer, Professor Nielson called him and [offered] help.’”

Professor Nielson lectures and writes in the areas of administrative law, civil procedure, and federal courts. His publications have appeared (or will appear) in journals such as the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Duke Law Journal, University of Chicago Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, and Georgetown Law Journal. He serves as Chair of the Administrative and Management Committee of the Administrative Conference of the United States, a federal agency that studies the administrative process and makes recommendations on ways to improve it. He also serves on the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice. Previously, he chaired or co-chaired the Section’s Rulemaking and Antitrust & Trade Regulation Committees. 

In 2020, Nielson was appointed by the US Supreme Court to brief and argue Collins v. Yellen, a separation-of-powers case about the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Strobl noted Nielson’s “exemplary briefing and poise” during oral arguments.

In accepting the award, Nielson commented on the ideal for scholarly discussion: “No one has a monopoly on wisdom, and when we’re mistaken, we should be happy to be corrected. … Real learning requires good faith consideration of ideas.” He continued, “When we are wrong, we should admit it.  But we are not always wrong, and we need to be willing to say what we think. And just because some ideas are unpopular or peculiar doesn’t mean they are wrong.” 

Nielson also noted the importance of engaging politely. “All too often, popular culture seems to say that because we are in a war of ideas,” he says, “there is no time for measured conversation. But politeness is an idea. The idea is that we need to build institutions and social norms that allow new ideas to emerge. “

Before joining the BYU Law faculty in 2013, Professor Nielson was a partner in the Washington, DC office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. He also has served as a law clerk to Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. of the US Supreme Court, Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, and Judge Jerry E. Smith of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Nielson received his JD from Harvard Law School. Following graduation, he was awarded a Harvard Law School Post-Graduate Research Fellowship. Professor Nielson also received an LLM from the University of Cambridge, where he focused his studies on the institutions that regulate global competition and commerce. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in economics and political science.

The Story Award is customarily presented in person at the Federalist Society’s Annual Student Symposium, but due to the pandemic, the symposium was held virtually. Video and text of Nielson’s acceptance remarks can be viewed on the Federalist Society’s website

The award is named for Justice Joseph Story, who was appointed to the Supreme Court at the age of 32, served as the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard, and wrote the Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. It is the successor to the Paul M. Bator Award, established in 1989 in memory of Professor Bator for similar purposes.