President Roberts with Steven Brown at the Faculty Awards Ceremony on Nov. 9.
A professor since 1998, Brown is one of two 2023 recipients of Auburn University’s most prestigious teaching honor, the Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching. An expert on the U.S. Constitution, American legal history, and issues of church and state, Brown is the author of several books and articles, including Alabama Justice: The Cases and Faces That Changed a Nation (University of Alabama Press, 2020) and Trumping Religion: The New Christian Right, the Free Speech Clause, and the Courts, (University of Alabama Press, 2002). But the best part of Brown’s job, he says, is teaching.
As the director of the department’s Law and Justice major, Brown’s teaching portfolio spans courses in American constitutional law, religion and politics, law and society and Introduction to American Government. Brown has spent years studying how law and society interact, translating his passion for understanding complex legal issues into lectures that offer students opportunities to comment on prominent social issues through critical inquiry and civil discourse.
Each semester, his students have the unique opportunity to participate in a moot court experience, researching and role-playing Supreme Court justices and counsel members in an oral argument on a pending case before the court. He enjoys seeing his students grow in confidence through the experience.
“These undergraduates literally become some of the best-informed people about that case in the country,” says Brown. “Watching them change from students who sometimes do not say much in class to justices and counsel who lob or field difficult legal questions during our moot court oral argument is always amazing to watch.”
Each student assumes the role of an attorney or a Justice in an hour-long mock Supreme Court argument, and authors or co-authors a brief or draft opinion on the case. The moot court’s goals are simple – the Justices inundate the advocates with questions, who then provide impromtu responses grounded in facts and law. By offering students a challenging experience replicating the research and critical thinking required for the courtroom, students are prepared for post-graduate programs. As a result, several of Brown’s students have received or been finalists for many of the nation’s most prestigious scholarships and awards, including the Rhodes Scholarship, Gates-Cambridge Scholarship, Fulbright Scholarship and Truman Scholarship, among others.
Impact Beyond Campus
In addition to his on-campus courses, Brown lectures for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, providing continuing education to students over 50. He is also an instructor with The Election Center, administering training to nationwide election officials for over 20 years. His outreach efforts were recognized in 2020 with Auburn University’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach, an award that “honors the engagement of exemplary faculty members and demonstrates the tremendous impact outreach has on our community, state, nation and beyond.”
Along with his colleague Jada Kohlmeier, Humana Foundation-Germany-Sherman Endowed Distinguished Professor in the College of Education, Brown recently received more than $2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education to conduct nationwide virtual professional development for secondary social studies educators. The project, “Developing C.L.E.A.R. Thinking,” assists students in developing their civic, legal, ethical and analogous reasoning skills. Kohlmeier and Brown will work alongside 14 others to recruit 40 teachers from underserved school districts to participate in the program. Brown will provide legal and political context and content, while Kohlmeier and her team will introduce pedagogical strategies and direction for age-appropriate instruction, emphasizing discussion-based activities as both work to cultivate the next generation of well-informed citizens.
Recognized nationally in 2006 with the National Society of Collegiate Scholars Faculty of the Year Award and the inaugural recipient of the Morris Savage Endowed Chair, Brown has also received the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and has been named the Daniel J. Nelson Most Outstanding Political Science professor seven times and served as Auburn University’s nominee for the Carnegie Foundation’s U.S. Professors of the Year in 2008. His research has been recognized with the Franklyn S. Haiman Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Freedom of Expression, the Anne B. and James B. McMillan Prize for best book in Southern history, and the Supreme Court Historical Society’s Hughes-Gossett Senior Prize. In addition to his teaching and research accolades, Brown has received multiple grants from organizations such as the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, the Alabama Humanities Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Despite these honors, Brown finds that he is most honored by the accomplishments of his students, many of whom have attended prominent law schools, clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts, or serve as federal judges, including Caleb Wolanek, a 2014 political science alumnus and Harvard Law School graduate. Following clerkships on both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Wolanek is now a litigator at the law firm of Maynard Nexsen PC in Birmingham, where he focuses on appellate briefs and critical motions, often drawing from his experiences in Brown’s classes.
“Even today, what I learned from Dr. Brown helps me represent clients at all levels of the federal judicial system,” Wolanek said. “While I have had many excellent teachers along the way, Dr. Brown stands apart from the rest. He is an innovative and incredibly effective teacher who is deeply and demonstrably committed to every student’s success.”