Jessie Allen

Professor of Law

Professor Jessie Allen teaches jurisprudence, legal ethics, and property. Much of her scholarship considers how traditional legal authorities and practices can be reimagined to contribute to a socially progressive rule of law. A current project argues that conventional property doctrine can be read to accommodate more-than-human personhood.  Another article proposes that formal doctrinal reasoning might have psychological effects that could distance judges from their usual subjective outlooks. A recent book chapter reinterprets and defends Blackstone’s declaratory theory of common law as a kind of legal ritual.

Allen’s writing and teaching are informed by her experience as a litigator and civil rights advocate. Before coming to Pitt in 2010, Allen worked for several national public interest organizations and at the U.S. Department of Justice, where she was a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General, the branch of DOJ that handles the federal government’s cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. As a senior attorney for Advancement Project, a racial justice organization, she litigated voting rights cases in swing states. Before that, she was a staff attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, where her practice focused on challenging state laws that bar voting because of criminal conviction. Her voting rights practice made clear to Allen that the U.S. legal system suffers from racial bias, a problem that she revisited from a different angle in her recent article, Lawyers for White People.

Allen received her doctorate in law (JSD) from Columbia University, where she was a Heffernan Fellow, and her JD (summa cum laude) from Brooklyn Law School. After graduating from law school, she clerked for Judge Pierre N. Leval, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Judge Edward R. Korman, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. She holds a BFA in theater from New York University.

Allen is the author of the blog, Blackstone Weekly, which explores how the iconic eighteenth-century legal treatise, William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, can illuminate twenty-first-century law and culture.

    Education & Training

  • JSD, Columbia University School of Law
  • JD, Brooklyn Law School
  • BFA, New York University School of the Arts
Recent Publications

Books & Chapters

  • Blackstone, William, in Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy, Sellers M., Kirste S. (eds.), (Springer, Dordrecht 2020).
  • Rules, Tricks and Emancipation, in Porosites due droit/Law’s Porosities, Vivan Curran, ed., pub: Société de législation comparée, Paris (pp 125-141), Dec. 2020 available on SSRN
  • Blackstone, Expositor and Censor of Law Both Made and Found, in Blackstone and His Critics,  Anthony Page and Wilfrid Prest, eds., (Bloomsbury 2018) available on SSRN.
  • Magical Realism, Law and Magic: A Collection of Essays, Christine A. Corcos, ed. (2010, Carolina Academic Press).
  • “Reading Blackstone in the Twenty-First Century and the Twenty-First Century through Blackstone,” in Re-Interpreting Blackstone’s Commentaries: A Seminal Text in National and International Context, Wilfrid Prest, ed. (Hart Publishing, Oxford 2014).
  • Of Taints and Time: Race, Cause & Criminal Disenfranchisement, After the War on Crime 166, Mary Louise Frampton, Jonathan Simon & Ian F. Haney Lopez, eds. (2008, NYU Press).


  • Lawyers for White People?  University of Kansas Law Review. University of Kansas School of Law 69(3), 349-407 (2021). Available on SSRN.
  • Performing Justice, in 2 Emotions: History, Culture, Society 52 (2018).
  • Doctrinal Reasoning as a Disruptive Practice, Journal of Law and Courts, Vol. 6, Issue 2 (fall 2018). Available on SSRN.
  • Empirical Doctrine, 66 Case Western L. Rev. 1 (2015). Available on SSRN.
  • “Law and Artifice in Blackstone’s Commentaries,” 4 Journal of Law: 3 Chapter One, August 2014.
  • The Persistence of Proximate Cause: How Legal Doctrine Thrives on Skepticism,90 Denver University Law Review 77 (2012). Available on SSRN.
  • Theater of International Justice, 3 Creighton International & Comparative Law Journal 121 (2012). Available on SSRN.
  • Documentary Disenfranchisement, 86 Tulane Law Review 389 (2011). Available on SSRN.
  • A Theory of Adjudication: Law as Magic, 41 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 773 (2008).
  •  Just Words? The Effects of No-Citation Rules in Federal Courts of Appeals, 29 Vermont Law Review 555, (2005).
  • The Right to Cite: Why Fair and Accountable Courts Should Abandon No-Citation Rules, Judicial Independence Series, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law (2005).
  • Introduction: Symposium on Race, Crime, and Voting: Social, Political, and Philosophical Perspectives on Felony Disenfranchisement in America, 36 Columbia Human Rights L. Rev. 1 (2004).
  • Locking Out the Vote, The American Lawyer, (April 2003).
  • Blind Faith & Reasonable Doubts: Investigating Belief in the Rule of Law, 24 Seattle Law Review 691, (2001).
  • Personal and Political: Feminists and the Sex Scandal, Dissent, (Winter 1999).


  • Blackstone Weekly – a weblog conversation with William Blackstone on the Commentaries.