Professor Sarah Seo

Sarah A. Seo

  • Michael I. Sovern Professor of Law

Ph.D., Princeton University (history), 2016
J.D., Columbia Law School, 2007 
A.B., Princeton University, 2002 

Areas of Specialty

Criminal Law
Criminal Procedure
U.S. Legal History

Sarah A. Seo ’07 is a legal historian of criminal law and procedure in the 20th-century United States. Her recent book, Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom, examines the history of the automobile to explain the evolution of the Fourth Amendment and to explore the problem of police discretion in a society committed to the rule of law. The book was named one of 2019’s ten best history books by Smithsonian Magazine and received several prizes, including the Order of the Coif Book Award, the Littleton-Griswold Prize from the American Historical Association, and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award from Phi Beta Kappa Society. In addition to publishing in academic journals, Seo has written for The Atlantic, Boston Review, Lapham’s Quarterly, Le Monde Diplomatique, The New York Review of Books, and The Washington Post. 

Seo clerked for Judge Denny Chin, then of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and Judge Reena Raggi of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Seo taught at Iowa Law School before joining the Columbia Law School faculty in 2020.


Honors and Awards

Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, Phi Beta Kappa Society


Littleton-Griswold Prize, American Historical Association


Order of the Coif Book Award


David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History


Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize


Honorable Mention, J. Willard Hurst Book Prize, Law and Society Association


Dissertation Prize, Law and Society Association


Franklin Research Grant, American Philosophical Society


Beach Law Faculty Opportunity Fund, University of Iowa College of Law


Professor Eric K. Yamamoto Emerging Scholar Award, Conference of Asian Pacific American Law Faculty


William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Grant


Charles W. McCurdy Legal History Fellowship, University of Virginia School of Law and Miller Center of Public Affairs


Emerging Alumni Scholars Award, Princeton University


Fellow, J. Willard Hurst Institute in Legal History, American Society for Legal History and University of Wisconsin Law School


Samuel I. Golieb Fellowship, New York University School of Law


Richard Scharchburg Student Paper Award, Society of Automotive Historians


Laurance S. Rockefeller Graduate Prize Fellowship, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University


William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Fellowship


News and Press

Activities and Affiliations

  • 2020-present Board of Directors, American Society of Legal History
  • Reviewer, The University of Wisconsin Press, Oxford University Press, Journal of Urban History, and Green Bag’s Exemplary Legal Writing Honors 
  • 2019–present Cromwell Prize Committee, American Society for Legal History 
  • 2017–2018 J. Willard Hurst Book Prize Committee, Law and Society Association 
  • 2014–2015 Pro Bono Attorney, Legal Services NYC 
  • 2013–2015 Chair, Academic Committee, Asian American Bar Association of New York

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