A study of legal publications between 2009 and 2013 found Chemerinsky to be the second-most frequently cited American legal scholar, behind Cass Sunstein and ahead of Richard A. Epstein.
Raised in a working-class Jewish family on Chicago's South Side, Chemerinsky attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools for high school. He earned a bachelor's degree in communications from Northwestern University in 1975, where he competed as a debater. He then attended Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. He graduated cum laude in 1978.
Chemerinsky taught for over twenty years at the University of Southern California Law School and at DePaul University College of Law before moving to Duke University on July 1, 2004, and then UC Irvine in July 2008. In July 2017, he will start a five-year term as dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.
In 1995, Chemerinsky was a commentator on the O.J. Simpson trial on KCBS-TV, KNX, and CBS News.
Chemerinsky has published six books (three of which having been printed in multiple editions), numerous articles, and a regular column on the United States Supreme Court carried by California Lawyer, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, and Trial Magazine. Chemerinsky has also argued several cases before the United States Supreme Court, including Scheidler v. NOW, Tory v. Cochran, Van Orden v. Perry and Lockyer v. Andrade.
In March 2011, The National Jurist: The Magazine for Law Students named Chemerinsky one of the "23 Law Profs to Take Before You Die".
Chemerinsky supports gun control and disagreed with the decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. He thinks that even if an individual right to bear arms exists, the District of Columbia was justified in restricting that right because it believed that the law would lessen violence. George Will specifically mentioned and responded to Chemerinsky's argument in a column that ran four days later.
Chemerinsky believes that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided. He says, "Judicial activism is the label for the decision that people don't like." He also believes that gay marriage should be legal.
Chemerinsky also represents a client held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. He supports affirmative action. In January 2017, Chemerinsky, along with other high-profile lawyers, sued President Donald Trump for refusing to "divest from his businesses".
Chemerinsky has defended freedom of speech from the heckler's veto. Following an incident in which nine members of the (UCI) Muslim Students Union disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, Chemerinsky asserted that broad freedom exists to invite speakers and hold demonstrations, but that once a speaker has begun an invited lecture, "You have the right – if you disagree with me – to go outside and perform your protest. But you don't get the right to come in when I'm talking and shout me down. Otherwise people can always silence a speaker by heckler's veto, and Babel results."
After the interruptions, Oren completed his remarks and canceled the question-and-answer session. The students were arrested by University of California Irvine Police, which were on hand. However, Chemerinsky also publicly disagreed with the Orange County District Attorney's Office's decision to file criminal charges against the students.
In addition to teaching at the School of Law, Chemerinsky also teaches undergraduate classes in Political Science. President Bill Clinton briefly considered Chemerinsky for an opening on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 2006, he declined an offer to become the next dean at the University of North Carolina School of Law. He was then a finalist to become dean at Duke University School of Law.
Chemerinsky's hiring as dean of the UCI School of Law was controversial. After signing a contract on September 4, 2007, the hire was rescinded by UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake, who felt the law professor's commentaries were "polarizing." Drake claimed the decision was his own and not the subject of any outside influence.
The action was criticized by both liberal and conservative scholars, who felt it hindered the academic mission of the law school and violated principles of academic freedom, and few believed Drake's claims that it was not the result of outside influence. The issue was the subject of an editorial in The New York Times on Friday, September 14. Details emerged revealing that the university had received criticism on the hire from the California Supreme Court's Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who criticized Chemerinsky's grasp of death penalty appeals and a group of prominent local Republicans, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who wanted to stop the appointment. Drake traveled over a weekend to meet with Chemerinsky in Durham, North Carolina, where he was a professor at the Duke University School of Law at the time, and the two reached an agreement late Sunday evening.
On September 17, Chemerinsky issued a joint press release with Drake indicating that Chemerinsky would head the law school. The release stated that the chancellor was "commit[ted] to academic freedom." On September 20, 2007, Chemerinsky's hire was formally approved by the Regents of the University of California.Los Angeles Police Department panel reviewing the Rampart Scandal.
Los Angeles commission reviewing irregularities in city contracting.
Helped write the Los Angeles city charter.
Helped draft the Constitution of Belarus.
Chemerinsky has published several books:"Closing the Courthouse Door -- How Your Constitutional Rights Became Unenforceable" (Yale University Press 2017)
The Case Against the Supreme Court (Viking Adult 2014)
The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (Simon & Schuster 2010)
Enhancing Government (Stanford University Press 2008)
Federal Jurisdiction (Aspen Law & Business 5th ed. 2007)
Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies (Aspen Law & Business 3d ed. 2006)
Constitutional Law (Aspen Law & Business 2d ed. 2005)
Interpreting the Constitution (Praeger 1987)
In addition, Chemerinsky has published over one hundred law review articles, including publications in the Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Southern California Law Review, and McGeorge Law Review.
Chemerinsky is married to Catherine Fisk, who is also a law professor at UC Berkeley School of Law.