Prof Admits to Misusing Source

Tribe’s apology marks third instance of HLS citation woes in past year

Harvard constitutional law scholar Laurence H. Tribe ’62 apologized yesterday for not properly crediting another professor’s work in his popular 1985 book God Save This Honorable Court, one day after a conservative political magazine accused him of plagiarism.

The Weekly Standard posted an article on its website Saturday charging Tribe with using language that closely mirrors sections of Henry J. Abraham’s 1974 book on Supreme Court appointments, Justices and Presidents.

And at one point in his 1985 book, Tribe lifts a 19-word passage verbatim from Abraham’s text.

Tribe could not be reached directly for comment yesterday, but issued a statement to The Crimson via e-mail.

He said he recognized his “failure to attribute some of the material The Weekly Standard identified.”


“I personally take full responsibility for that failure,” Tribe said.

Tribe’s mea culpa comes just three weeks after another prominent Harvard faculty member—Climenko Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree—publicly apologized for copying six paragraphs almost word-for-word from a Yale scholar in a recent book, All Deliberate Speed.

Last fall, Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz also battled plagiarism charges. And in 2002, Harvard Overseer Doris Kearns Goodwin admitted that she had accidently copied passages from another scholar in her bestseller The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys.

University President Lawrence H. Summers told The Crimson in an interview last week—before the allegations against Tribe surfaced—that he did not see “a big trend” of plagiarism problems at the Law School as a result of the charges against Ogletree and Dershowitz, but indicated that a third case would change his mind.

“If you had a third one, then I would have said, okay, you get to say this is a special thing, a focused problem at the Law School,” Summers said of the recent academic dishonesty cases.

He declined comment last night.

Tribe, who was named one of Harvard’s 19 University Professors last June, defended Goodwin against plagiarism charges two years ago on the grounds that her work was “closely documented with something like 3,500 footnotes.”

Tribe’s 1985 book did not contain footnotes and endnotes—a decision he made as part of a “well-meaning effort to write a book accessible to a lay audience.”

Instead, Tribe includes a single sentence mentioning Abraham’s book in an appendix on background literature.

“I have immediately written an apology to Professor Abraham, whom I—like so many others—hold in the highest regard,” Tribe said in his statement.