McGeorge School of Law

Charles Kelso

Professor of Law Emeritus
Charles D. Kelso
Phone: 916.739.7001

AB, JD, University of Chicago
LLM, JSD, Columbia University
LLD, John Marshall


When studying the rule of law and the legal system, students should seek to understand all of the factors that go into legislation and into judicial and administrative decisions, including the relations between society and law that are involved in the creation and application of law, and especially the principles of our Constitution.

Professor Kelso was a law clerk to Justice Sherman Minton of the Supreme Court of the United States before entering teaching. He began his legal education career in 1951 at the age of 22. Today he is the second longest serving law professor in the country. He has authored four books and more than 70 articles. In recent years, he has taught Constitutional Law, First Amendment and American Legal History. He has also taught contracts, trusts, domestic relations, moot court, trial practice, income tax, agency, legislation, and professional responsibility. He has served as a consultant to more than 20 ABA law schools on topics including the design of facilities, curriculum, and clinical education programs.

Professor Kelso is the co-author of Charles D. Kelso & R. Randall Kelso, The Path of Constitutional Law (2007)(with 2016 Supplement)(E-Treatise on the Constitution); Charles D. Kelso & R. Randall Kelso, American Constitutional Law: An E-Coursebook Volumes 1 & 2 (2016 Orig. Ed. 2014)(Volume 1: The Structural Constitution: Separation of Powers and Federalism; Volume 2: Individual Economic, Civil, and Political Rights in the Constitution Exclusive of the First Amendment); Charles D. Kelso & R. Randall Kelso, American Constitutional Law; An E-Coursebook Volume 3; The First Amendment (2016 Orig. Ed. 2014); and R. Randall Kelso & Charles D. Kelso, Studying Law: An Introduction (2d ed. 2010)(legal methods materials on studying law in a common-law legal system, with particular focus on the United States). All these books are available at:

Professor Kelso's special contributions to legal education include a number of innovations, most of which relate to national legal organizations. For example, in 1962, Professor Kelso and his wife, Jane, created the first exhibit room at an annual Association of American Law Schools' meeting. This practice has been continued at all annual meetings and greatly elaborated by use of a large exhibit hall and the inclusion of many publishers and vendors. In 1968, Kelso used then unique television facilities to create the AALS Great Teacher Program. It recorded and permanently archived the teaching techniques of outstanding teachers from some of the nation's leading law schools who were shown instructing actual classes. These historic documents are now in AALS archives. In the 1960s, Professor Kelso's visits to 120 law schools gave rise to the first color slide show on the design of law school buildings. It was shown at annual meetings of the AALS, and to a number of law schools where there were plans for renovations or new buildings.

In 1972, Professor Kelso published the AALS Study of Part-Time Legal Education. It contributed to preserving the membership status of part-time programs in the AALS. The book included an innovative methodology for ranking law schools. Although the ranking methodology was created for the limited purpose of comparing day and evening programs, it became used by law school applicants and by law school recruitment and program planning. This came about because the methodology was picked up by Baron's Law School Guide (which attributed its creation to Professor Kelso), and later by the U.S. News and World Report in its ranking of law schools.

In the early 1970s, in cooperation with Mike Cardozo, Executive Director the AALS, Professor Kelso helped create the first joint inspections by the ABA and the AALS. In 1973, as Chair of the ABA Section of Legal Education, Professor Kelso created and edited a magazine entitled "Learning and the Law." It was the first legal publication to use color pictures and side bars. Professor Kelso also implemented a committee structure whose diverse members could include teachers, practitioners, and judges who were not on the Council. Later, as President of the Law and Society Association, he introduced a similar policy by pressing for a new constitution which set up elections for the governing board rather than continuing it as a self-perpetuating group. He was on the committee which began creating contracts questions for the newly established multi-state bar exam, and he continued his participation on that committee for 22 years. In addition, he was on the committee which created the first California performance test.

As a legal scholar, Professor Kelso's major publications are innovative in several different ways. In 1968, inspired by his study of B.F. Skinner's work, he published the first programmed set of legal teaching materials – materials of the kind that now appear in computerized distance learning. With his son, Randall, in 2008 he published a 2040 page treatise on Constitutional Law. It was the first full-length legal treatise available only online. He helped design the McGeorge Magazine, in which the first edition appeared before other law schools began the practice of including in their magazines color photographs and side bars (as had been done much earlier in "Learning and the Law").

In his brief experience as a practicing lawyer, Professor Kelso was a member of the winning team of lawyers in the federal court case that desegregated the Indianapolis Public Schools. The District Court's order was affirmed after being twice appealed to the Seventh Circuit and twice to the Supreme Court of the United States.

In law teaching, Professor Kelso was also innovative. He was one of the first to create trial practice simulations, some of which went to trial in real court rooms. He scheduled moot legislative sessions in the state capital and moot appellate arguments in state capital courtrooms. He organized a will-drafting contest with a local bank which gave a dinner and cash prize for the winner. In his course on American Legal History, the freedom he gives to students in selecting topics for their research has led to some very innovative papers, such as one which explored how changes in the law have been reflected in musical theater. In all aspects of his career as a legal educator, Professor Kelso has expanded boundaries and looked for new and creative ways to improve how the law is taught, and how students experience legal education.


American Legal History

First Amendment Law

Representative Scholarship and Activities

Justice Kennedy on Liberty, 8 Dartmouth L. J. (forthcoming 2011) (with R. Randall Kelso).

Judicial Decision-Making and Judicial Review: The State of Debate, Circa 2009,112 W. Va. L. Rev. 351 (2010) (with R. Randall Kelso).

Book Review, 39 McGeorge L. Rev. 1131 (2008) (reviewing Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (2007)) (with R. Randall Kelso).

Book Review, 86 Tex. L. Rev. 1263 (2008) (reviewing Sanford Levinson, Our Undemocratic Constitution (2006)) (with R. Randall Kelso).

The Path of Constitutional Law (E-Treatise) (with R. Randall Kelso, Vandeplas 2007).

The Path of Constitutional Law (E-Treatise) 2008 Supplement (with R. Randall Kelso, Vandeplas 2008).

The Path of Constitutional Law – Companion Book (with R. Randall Kelso, Vandeplas 2008).