Ezra Rosser, a law professor at American University, is the author of A Nation Within: Navajo Land and Economic Development (Cambridge University Press, 2021). His research focuses on poverty and tribal economic development. Ezra has been a visiting professor at Ritsumeiken University and at Université Lyon III, a 1665 Fellow at Harvard University, a visiting scholar at Yale Law School, and a Westerfield Fellow at Loyola University New Orleans.
He will be a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center in Spring 2024. Ezra has an MPhil from the University of Cambridge (UK) in Land Economics (2004), a J.D. from Harvard Law School (2003), and a BA in Economics and English from Yale University (2000). He is a co-author of Poverty Law, Policy, and Practice (2014) (with Brodie, Pastore, and Selbin), co-editor of The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases (2016) (with Failinger) and of Tribes, Land, and the Environment (2012) (with Krakoff), and editor of Holes in the Safety Net: Federalism and Poverty (2018).
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about the ways that many poor people, children and adults, are denied a fair place in society and routinely are treated as not fully deserving of basic rights and respect. I am the son of a carpenter turned teacher and bus driver turned environmental planner. My most read article, On Becoming “Professor”, https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/facsch_lawrev/11/, is about my experience of upward mobility through education and the comfort of being a professor makes it all too easy to lose sight of the hardships faced by poor families. In the United States, the birth lottery provides some kids with wonderful schools, safe communities, and reliable access to food and shelter while relegating other equally worthy people to poor schools, dangerous environments, and reliance on an underfunded safety net. Though I tend to write in three different fields—poverty law, tribal economic development, and property theory—my motivation in all my work is to help in whatever margin way a professor can with uplifting the voices and interests of marginalized and subordinated communities. I am a non-Indian but grew up in part on the Navajo reservation, which is why I have a particular interest in issues related to Navajo land and development.
What are you working on these days?
I am currently working on two things. First, I was asked to be one of the editors for the next edition of the Cohen Handbook of Federal Indian Law, the leading and most cited Indian law treatise. In many ways my work on that book fits more in a “service” rather than “scholarship” category, but it has been an invaluable way to get to know areas of tribal sovereignty that I hadn’t previously focused on or researched. Second, I am writing an article on Midkiff, an eminent domain case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984 that is usually understood as being about the government’s right to redistribute property rights for the purposes of fighting back against land oligarchy and creating a deeper land market. My research focuses on a neglected aspect of that case, namely that much of the land taken represented the remnants of the land once held by Native Hawaiians and was being held in trust for their benefit.
What brings you to PLPR?
My final degree was a masters in land economics from the University of Cambridge and what most struck me that year was the difference in approach to theory and to economics at Cambridge versus what I had experienced in the United States. Whereas economics at Yale and Harvard was largely a story of neoclassical models built on the rational man, what most mattered at Cambridge were the institutions that shape markets. The Cambridge model seemed to me both a better way of understanding the world and more in line with the ways reservation land use and practices differed from the off-reservation norms. My interest in PLPR comes out of my friendship with Nir Mualam, who studied in with me in the same Cambridge program, and is also connected with my hopes to not get too boxed into U.S. ways of thinking.
Anecdote: things we don’t know about you?
I split my time between Washington, D.C., where I teach; rural Colorado, where I have an off-the-grid log cabin and where I was born; and San Salvador, El Salvador, where my wife is from and where we have a house. My kids are 13 and 7 years old.
Taken on Aspen Ridge, near Buena Vista, Colorado.