Syracuse University Magazine


Kevin Noble Maillard

Legal Scholarship With a Personal Touch

Law professor Kevin Noble Maillard recounts what he considers “one of the most fascinating papers I’ve ever heard discussed in my life”—one that compared the art of conducting a symphony to that of interpreting the U.S. Constitution. The paper was presented by his faculty colleague Ian Gallacher, a former concert maestro, at a law and humanities workshop series that brought together Syracuse University faculty from diverse disciplines to share their fields of expertise over food and conversation. “It was riveting,” says Maillard, who began teaching at the College of Law in 2005. “Nearly everyone at the table was from a different department. Those are the reasons I came to Syracuse—to get to know people who would be able to provide insights into my scholarship that would be totally different approaches than they would be only at the law school.”

Seeking different approaches is standard procedure for Maillard, a law scholar and journalist whose areas of interest include civil liberties, popular culture, and family law, especially anything relating to nontraditional families. He is co-editor of Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World (Cambridge University Press, 2012), a contributing editor to The New York Times, a writer for The Atlantic, and has appeared as a legal commentator on MSNBC, NPR, CNN, and Al Jazeera America. “I do a lot of work with unmarried committed couples and interracial couples with children—which is my own life,” says Maillard, who is originally from Oklahoma and is a member of the Seminole Nation. He commutes to Syracuse from New York City, where he lives with his partner, Iris, their toddler, and a new baby. “I’m especially interested in the rights of unmarried dads, whether they are with their partner or not,” he says.

His recent work on a feature article for The Atlantic, for example, allowed him to delve into a legal case in South Carolina involving a young man whose child was adopted out by the mother without his knowledge. Through the process of regaining his parental rights, the father was inspired to become an advocate for other unmarried dads who want to be active in their kids’ lives. For Maillard, researching the story provided a meaningful opportunity to practice “scholarship with a personal touch”—something he values. “It was great, because it wasn’t just reading statutes in a library by myself, looking at computer files,” says Maillard, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Duke, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan, and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. “It was going out and interviewing people and getting to know family members and the father’s friends and the baby. And I was really impacted by having these connections and developing relationships with all the people I was writing about.”

He also sees his media work as a way to extend his expertise and curiosity about civil liberties issues to a broader audience, and to invite others to contribute via social media. “I want to make sure that everyone can participate in a discussion—not just ‘fancy’ people—making academia really relevant to the larger community,” Maillard says. “That’s why we’re here. That’s what brings the law alive.” —Amy Speach

Photo by Steve Sartori