Born in Santa Monica, California, Collins grew up in Southern California. He graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a degree in political philosophy and received a law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, where he was a member of the Law Review. Afterwards, Collins served as a law clerk to Justice Hans A. Linde on the Oregon Supreme Court and was a Supreme Court Fellow under United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger.
After working with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Collins was a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School. Thereafter, he taught constitutional law, contracts, and commercial law at Temple Law School and The George Washington University Law School and other schools.
-- In 2002, the Los Angeles Times selected The Trials of Lenny Bruce (co-auhored with David Skover) as one of the best books of the year. The following year, Collins and Skover successfully petitioned the governor of New York to posthumously pardon Lenny Bruce. In 2004, they received the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award.
-- In 2009, he served as the president of the Supreme Court Fellows Alumni Association, and in 2011 he received the Association's Administration of Justice award "in recognition of his scholarly and professional achievements in advancing the rule of law."
-- In 2010, Collins was a fellow in residence at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He is also on the board of editors of the Washington Independent Review of Books.
-- In 2011, Collins became the book editor for SCOTUSblog, a blog devoted to news and analysis concerning the U.S. Supreme Court.
-- In 2014 he became a permanent contributor to the Concurring Opinions blog, for which he writes the First Amendment News (FAN) column.
-- In 2012, Collins received the Outstanding Faculty Award from the editors of the Washington Law Review. In 2012, the American Society of Legal Writers awarded him a Scribes Book Award (bronze) for We Must not be Afraid to be Free (written with Sam Chaltain). In 2013, Mania, a book co-authored with David Skover, was selected by the San Francisco Book Festival as runner up in the best book of American history category.
-- In 2014-15 he did a series of 12 blog posts on Judge Richard Posner. The series was titled "Posner on Posner." Among other things, the series consisted of a number of Q&A interviews Collins did with Posner.
-- In 2015 he joined the board of editors of the Journal of Legal Education, a journal published by the American Association of Law Schools.
-- In 2016 he was selected to serve as Editor-in-Chief of the Online First Amendment Library, which appears on the web site of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
-- Collins is one of the co-organizers of The History Book Festival, which will launch in Lewes, Delaware in October of 2017.Co-authored with David Skover, Robotica: Speech Rights & Artificial Intelligence (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
Co-authored with David Skover, The Judge: 26 Machiavellian Lessons (Oxford University Press, October 3, 2017)
Co-authored with David Skover, When Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Case, Campaign Finance Law & the First Amendment (Top Five Books, 2014)
Co-authored with David Skover, On Dissent: Its Meaning in America (Cambridge University Press, 2013)
Co-authored with David Skover, Mania: The Story of the Outraged & Outrageous Lives that Launched a Cultural Revolution (Top Five Books, 2013)
Nuanced Absolutism: Floyd Abrams & the First Amendment (Carolina Academic Press, 2013)
Co-authored with David Skover, The Trials of Lenny Bruce: Revised & Expanded Tenth Anniversary Edition (e-book, Top Five Books Press, 2012)
Co-authored with Sam Chaltain, We Must not be Afraid to be Free: Stories of Free Expression in America (Oxford University Press, 2011)
Edited The Fundamental Holmes: A Free Speech Chronicle and Reader (Cambridge University Press, 2010)
Co-authored with David Skover, The Trials of Lenny Bruce (Sourcebooks, 2002)
Co-authored with David Skover, The Death of Discourse, (Carolina Academic Press, 2nd ed., 2005)
Edited The Death of Contract (Ohio State University Press, 2nd ed. 1995)
Edited Constitutional Government in America (Carolina Academic Press, 1980)
Contributed to Edward Rubin (ed.), Legal Education in the Digital Age
Contributed to Bradley D. McGraw (ed.), Developments in State Constitutional Law
Contributed to Lawrence A. Kane, Jr. (ed.),The Legal Rights of Citizens with Mental Retardation
Contributed to Sonia Maasik & Jack Solomon (eds.), Signs of Life in the USA: Readings in Popular Culture for Writers
Contributed to David M. O'Brien (ed.), Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Contributed to Richard A. Bell (ed.), Simone Weil's Philosophy of Culture"
Contributed to Richard A. Bell (ed.), Simone Weil: The Way of Justice as Compassion
Contributed to Don Hazen & Julie Winokur (eds.), We the Media
Contributed to Roger K. Newman (ed.), The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law (entries on Lenny Bruce & Anthony Comstock)
Collins has published more than 60 scholarly articles in publications such as the Harvard Law Review, Stanford Law Review, Michigan Law Review, the Supreme Court Review, Texas Law Review, Duke Law Journal, Southern California Law Review, Social Research Journal, Neohelicon, and the Washington Law Review, among others.
Collins has published more than 300 articles and reviews in publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Washington Times, Detroit Free Press, Miami Herald, Christian Science Monitor, The Forward, Columbia Journalism Review, Legal Times, National Law Journal, American Bar Association Journal, and The Nation.
Collins has also published articles and reviews in blogs or on websites, including SCOTUSblog, ConcurringOpinions blog, Contracts Profs blog, and on the First Amendment Center Website, among others.