H. Jefferson Powell is professor of law at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; he has also served in the United States Department of Justice under two presidents.

Powell was born in North Carolina in 1954.  The first member of his family to attend university, he arrived in Lampeter to read Honours Theology at St David’s University College in 1972. He was awarded a series of prizes: Part One Scholar, 1973; Salisbury & Van Mildert Scholar, 1974; Senior Scholar, W.D. Llewellyn Memorial Scholarship, 1974-1975; Rev Principal Maurice Jones Prize (Greek scholarship); Rev Evan Jones Greek Testament Prize, 1975. Powell comments that his debt to St David’s College is immeasurable; he remembers that a close friend once told him, ‘Your college made you.’  

Powell returned to the US to study for a Master of Arts degree at Duke University and then a Master of Divinity at Yale. After this, he took a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree at Yale Law School. He was awarded a PhD from Duke University in 1991; his thesis was entitled American constitutionalism as a moral tradition:  a theological interpretation. 

Powell’s career has been largely spent in academia, coupled with responsibilities in federal and state government. His first academic post was as research associate at Yale Law School. After this he worked as associate professor and then professor of law at the University of Iowa. In 1989, he went back to Duke University. He has remained at Duke ever since, apart from spending two years as professor of law at George Washington University, (2010-2012).  Alongside this, Powell was special counsel to the Attorney General for the state of North Carolina from 1991 to 1993. He was involved in the US Department of Justice under Presidents Clinton and Obama, (1993 to 2000 and 2011-2012). In particular, he was active in the Office of Legal Counsel, the body that gives legal advice to the President and the heads of US government agencies. In 1996, Powell was the Principal Deputy Solicitor General. More recently, he was Deputy Assistant Attorney General from 2011 to 2012. He has also briefed and argued cases in both federal and state courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. 

As a scholar, Powell is particularly interested in the United States constitution. His work has dealt with the history and ethical implications of American constitutionalism, the powers of the executive branch, and the role of the Constitution in legislative and judicial decision-making. He has retained an interest in theology and several of his writings deal with Christian perspectives on the constitution. In The moral tradition of American constitutionalism, (Duke University Press, 1993), he offered ‘the perspective of the critical insider’ on American constitutionalism’s crisis, as well as including his own Christian viewpoint. In Constitutional conscience: the moral dimension of judicial decision (University of Chicago Press, 2008), Powell attempted to refute the idea that there is no place for morality in judging and in interpreting the American constitution. For him, there has been a moral element in making judicial decisions since the earliest days of the US system. More recently, Powell has written Targeting Americans: the constitutionality of the U.S. drone war, (Oxford University Press, 2016). In this book, he examined whether the Constitution permitted government officials to kill US citizens with military drones. He concluded that the Constitution posed no barriers to targeted drone attacks, provided they were authorized by Congress and pursued a ‘genuinely military rationale.’ 

Powell has written many book chapters and journal articles, as well as teaching a variety of courses. His recent modules have included constitutional law, First Amendment clinic and dignitary torts. He was awarded Duke University’s Excellence in Small Teaching Award for 1998-99, and its University Scholar/Teacher Award for 2001-2002. He is also editor of the Carolina Academic Press Legal History Series. Outside of the law, one of his oldest academic interests is in Byzantium. In complete contrast, he is fascinated with poetry as a way of expressing religious faith. In future, he hopes to publish on this. 


Powell, H.J. (n.d.) [Curriculum vitae]. Retrieved June 8, 2020, from https://law.duke.edu/sites/default/files/cv/powell_cv.pdf 

Duke University School of Law. (2020). H. Jefferson Powell. Retrieved June 8, 2020, from https://law.duke.edu/fac/powell/ 

Tushnet, M. (1995) [Review of the book The moral tradition of American constitutionalism, by H.J. Powell]. Journal of legal education, 45(2),303-308. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/42893389 

Braman, E. (2010). [Review: untitled] Perspectives on Politics, 8(2), 681-683. Retrieved June 8, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/25698661 

Peabody, B. (2017).  Powell, J. Jefferson. Targeting Americans: the constitutionality of the U.S. drone war. Congress & the presidency. 44(2),297-299. https://doi.org/10.1080/07343469.2017.1314729