Scholar Michael W. McConnell mixes law, religion

Published: Sunday, Jan. 9 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

"One of the things that's amazing about Michael is his breadth of knowledge," Cassell said. "He's not just somebody who specialized in an obscure field of law, but he has command of a wide range of subjects. … You run into certain people in a lifetime that make you say, 'Wow, the wheels on that guy are just turning faster than anything I've ever seen before.' I've run into two people like that during my life — one is Justice (Antonin) Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the other is Michael McConnell. On both the intellectual wheels turn so rapidly that it's a pleasure to watch them work."

In 2005, while McConnell was balancing the 10th Circuit with teaching part-time, a pair of Supreme Court vacancies arose. With his reputation as one of the country's preeminent conservative jurists and the same Republican president still in office who had nominated McConnell to the 10th Circuit, the national media buzzed about him being on the final list of candidates to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist or Justice Saundra Day O'Connor. John Roberts and Samuel Alito, however, ultimately filled the vacancies.

"I would've loved to do it — I won't deny that," McConnell said. "But … I didn't get all bent out of shape. I know both John Roberts and Sam Alito, think very highly of them, and think that the President chose well."

Stanford approached McConnell in 2009 with an offer to become director of its Constitutional Law Center. With his window for a Supreme Court nomination likely having passed, he accepted the Stanford position and resigned from both the 10th Circuit and the University of Utah.

The McConnells are now empty nesters. They enjoy a close relationship their two Keeshond dogs and continue to avidly hike during regular visits to their cabin in southern Utah, where they recently spent Christmas with their adult children.

In addition to continuing work on freedom of religion, McConnell is working on constitutional issues involving the Federal Reserve Board and giving a lecture this winter at Harvard on the constitutional thought of the first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton.

"The work on the court was extremely rewarding," McConnell said. "But it's very demanding in the sense that the volume of reading and thinking about the cases is pretty much your life. Now I'm able to read and think and write about things of my own choice."

E-mail: jaskar@desnews.com

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