black and white photo of woman wearing black sweater in front of a chalkboard.

Law Review celebrates Prof. Isabel Marcus’ legacy

The newest issue of the Buffalo Law Review attempts the impossible: capturing the scope of the late Professor Isabel Marcus’ intrepid life and pioneering work as a feminist legal scholar and advocate of women’s rights worldwide.

The student editors, inspired by a recommendation from a fellow scholar, have devoted the entirety of Volume 71, Issue 1, to an appreciation of Marcus, who died in 2021. At UB Law, she first focused on labor and family law, then shifted to women’s rights and gender equality, becoming an expert in international human rights.

Though Marcus retired before the Law Review’s current editorial board entered law school, Editor in Chief Matthew Mason ’23 says they quickly came to appreciate her body of work and her inspiring story.

“The issue really gives you a sense of who she was as a scholar and teacher, and the influence she had on UB,” Mason says. “I think we did a good job of balancing the personal with the scholarly side of her work. Her contribution to Buffalo and UB was important to demonstrate, but we also wanted to illuminate her personality.”

woman wearing a brightly colored sweater and glasses.

View Volume 71, a Special Issue of The Buffalo Law Review

Toward that end, the issue opens with a version of remarks that Marcus’ son, Justin Pritchard, delivered at a memorial service at UB last year. In her office, he says, “At the front of her desk was a squadron of wind-up toys. These offered a triaging operation when it came to students. Those who would be willing to take one and wind it up, those were the curious ones—the ones for whom she wanted to open her arms even wider.”

In choosing whom to invite to contribute to the issue, Mason says, “We wanted to include authors who had known Professor Marcus and been influenced by her. We thought that professors who worked with her for many years would be in the best position to reflect on her work.”

The full text of the Buffalo Law Review issue is available online. [View Here] But even a quick perusal demonstrates the breadth of Marcus’ influence—and the esteem and affection of her colleagues.

Professor Michael Boucai recalled an important early conversation on feminist scholarship: “The 1984 Mitchell Lecture was the brainchild of UB Law professor Isabel Marcus, whose opening remarks named feminism itself as her warrant for departing from the occasion’s traditional format. Choosing dialogue over monologue was, Marcus explained, good feminist practice. Moreover, the feminism that she convened her guests to discuss was, in 1984, internally riven and roiling. It was important to Marcus that the lecture, or rather the anti-lecture, convey the variety and depth of feeling to be found ‘on all sides of the issues that feminism [had] raised,’ issues she called ‘complicated and sophisticated and explosive.’

“Explosive indeed. Judging from the transcript of the event, sparks flew that day.”

“Isabel’s life gave her plenty of personal experience in expanding horizons of gender, religion, class, and politics,” wrote Emerita Professor Martha McCluskey. “In one of our more recent conversations, she reflected that she had faced discrimination and had lost some battles over the years. She explained these difficulties did not dampen her spirits or her commitment to justice, emphasizing that ‘I have enough’ to live meaningfully. A model of courage and integrity, she continually pressed for institutional changes that would overcome barriers for others as well in her own career.”     

Another contributor, Professor Sanford Levinson, is a noted Constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas Law School, where he and Marcus were colleagues early in her career. “Isabel and I shared a certain degree of skepticism—and openness, say, to Critical Legal Studies or other critiques of what came to be called ‘liberal legalism,’ ” he wrote.  “I still cherish and display outside my office a poster that Isabel gave me from a 1977 gathering in Houston on feminism and the law. …  ‘Colleagueship’ for Isabel was far more, infinitely more, than a willingness to read one’s work and discuss the latest articles in academic journals, however important those actually are. It instead was an openness to what Benjamin Nathan Cardozo once called ‘life in all its fullness,’ which, of course, went far beyond the academic or intellectual aspects of one’s self.”