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Professor Christian G. Fritz

Christian G. Fritz

Emeritus Professor of Law
B.A. 1975, Ph.D., 1986, University of California, Berkeley
J.D. 1978, University of California, Hastings College of Law
Member of the California Bar

Contact Information



Christian Fritz joined the UNM law faculty in 1987 to introduce legal history to first-year students, a new concept to legal education. Even today, few law schools offer such a course.

Fritz had just become the first person to complete a program at the University of California in which he earned a Ph.D. in history at Berkeley along with a law degree from Hastings College of Law. At the UNM law school, he teaches a variety of legal history courses along with Property. He contributes a deep knowledge of legal and constitutional history along with an exhaustive research style.

In addition to numerous articles, book chapters and reviews, Fritz has written books on legal history, including Federal Justice in California: The Court of Ogden Hoffman, 1851-1891. In October 2007, Cambridge University Press published his long-term study: American Sovereigns: The People and America’s Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War.

American Sovereigns: The People and America’s Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War challenges traditional American constitutional history, theory, and jurisprudence that sees today’s constitutionalism as linked by an unbroken chain to the 1787 Federal constitutional convention. It examines the idea that after the American Revolution, a collectivity – the people – would rule as the sovereign. Heated political controversies within the states and at the national level over what it meant for the people to be the sovereign, and how that collective sovereign could express its will were not resolved prior to the Civil War. The idea of the people as the sovereign both unified and divided Americans in thinking about government and the basis of the Union. Today’s constitutionalism is not a natural inheritance, but the product of choices Americans made between shifting understandings about themselves as a collective sovereign.

American Constitutional History

This seminar focuses on the historical context of ideas, events, and perceptions that led up to the creation of the federal constitution. Emphasis is placed on the effort to approach the federal constitution as 18th-century Americans did -- including the framers and proponents of the constitution and their opponents--the Anti-federalists. That insight leads up to a roundtable role play of historical participants in the debate over the proposed constitution.

The course also integrates other selected themes, such as natural law in the American constitutional tradition, the experience with 19th-century state constitution-making, and the constitutional challenges and implications of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Moreover, the course has a degree of flexibility to respond to and accommodate themes or issues of constitutional history of particular interest to the seminars participants.

Students are required to write a paper on any topic of their choice and toward the end of the semester will make presentations to the rest of the seminar based on their papers.

Comparative and Historical Legal Perspectives

This course is a wide-ranging historical introduction to our Common Law legal tradition. The course also provides a comparative legal perspective on the Common Law versus Civil Law systems. In addition, the course includes topics focusing on: the role of law and lawyers, legal education, non-Western concepts of law, so-called Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), and changing perceptions of law in America. Thus, the course offers comparative, historical, cultural, and jurisprudential dimensions to law. It establishes a broad context not only for other first-year courses, but for the student’s entire legal education and work as a lawyer.

Property I

This first year course is an introduction to the basic concepts of property law, focusing on the role of possession in allocating the various rights and responsibilities connected with personal and real property. The course covers acquisition of initial property rights, adverse possession, donative transfers, the evolution and nomenclature of interests in estates in land and future interest, concurrent property rights, and takings.

Property II

Primarily focuses on private land-use arrangements (especially non-possessory interests in land such as easements, real covenants, and equitable servitudes). Other topics include landlord/tenant law, problems arising in the contract for sale of land, methods of title assurance (including the operation of the recording acts), and nuisance. Focus is on general theory and practice, with side-glances at New Mexico law for illustrative purposes.

State Constitutional Law and History

Prerequisite: Constitutional Rights

This course explores the American constitutional tradition from a perspective that will reconceptualize standard assumptions about constitutionalism. Those standard assumptions entail views about American constitutional law and history that have been shaped by a predominant focus on the federal constitution. As a consequence of that focus, the significance of state constitutionalism and its history, as well as the interplay between state and federal constitutions, has not been fully appreciated. The course uncovers a new richness in constitutional law, theory, and history by focusing on the vibrant pattern of constitution-making in the states before and after the federal effort in 1787. We will then apply that learning to a series of contemporary issues in state constitutional law, with particular emphasis on the New Mexico constitution.



American Sovereigns: The People and America’s Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War (2008).

Federal Justice in California: The Court of Ogden Hoffman, 1851-1891 (1991).

A Judicial Odyssey: Federal Court in Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties (Christian G. Fritz, Michael Griffith, & Janet M. Hunter eds., 1985).

Chapters in Books

Interposition: An Overlooked Tool of American Constitutionalism, in Union and States' Rights: A History and Interpretation of Interposition, Nullification, and Secession 150 Years After Sumter 165-203 (Neil Cogan, ed., 2013).

A Constitutional Middle-Ground Between Revision and Revolution: A Reevaluation of The Nullification Crisis and The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions Through The Lens of Popular Sovereignty, in Law as Culture and Culture as Law: Essays in Honor of John Phillip Reid 158 (Hendrik Hartog & William Nelson eds., 2000).

Constitutional Conventions, in 1 Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System: Studies of the Principal Structures, Processes, and Policies of Congress and the State Legislatures Since the Colonial Era 37 (Joel H. Silbey ed., 1994).

Constitution Making in the Nineteenth Century American West, in Law for the Beaver, Law for the Elephant: Essays in the Legal History of the North American West 292 (John McLaren, Hamar Foster, & Chet Orloff, eds., 1992).

Due Process, Treaty Rights, and Chinese Exclusion, 1882-1891, in Entry Denied: Exclusion and the Chinese Community in America, 1882-1943, at 25 (Sucheng Chan ed., 1991).


Teaching Legal History in the First Year Curriculum, 53 AM. J. OF LEGAL HIST. 379 (2013).
Available at: SSRN

Interposition and the Heresy of Nullification: James Madison and the Exercise of Sovereign Constitutional Powers, First Principles: Foundational Concepts to Guide Politics and Policy, No. 41, February 21, 2012 (Heritage Foundation), pp. 1-17.
Available at: SSRN

Out From Under the Shadow of the Federal Constitution: An Overlooked American Constitutionalism, Rutgers Law Journal, Vol. 41(2010), 851-879.
Available at: SSRN | BePress

America's Unknown Constitutional World,(October 2008). Common-Place, Vol. 9, No. 1.
Available at: SSRN | BePress

Recovering the Lost Worlds of America’s Written Constitutions, 68 Alb. L. Rev. 261 (2005).
Available at: SSRN | BePress

Fallacies of American Constitutionalism, 35 Rutgers L.J. 1327 (2004).
Available at: SSRN | BePress

American Constitution-Making: The Neglected State Constitutional Sources, 27 Hastings Const. L.Q. 199 (2000).
Available at: SSRN | BePress

Alternative Visions of American Constitutionalism: Popular Sovereignty and the Early American Constitutional Debate, 24 Hastings Const. L.Q. 287 (1997).
Available at: SSRN | BePress

Introduction, The Honorable Robert F. Peckham 1920-1993: His Legal, Political, and Judicial Life (Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley, 1995).

The American Constitutional Tradition Revisited: Preliminary Observations On State Constitution-Making In The Nineteenth-Century West, 25 Rutgers L. J. 945 (1994).
Available at: SSRN

Rethinking the American Constitutional Tradition: National Dimensions in the Formulation of State Constitutions, in 1 Cal. Supreme Ct. Hist. Soc'y Yearbook. 103 (1994), reprinted in 26 Rutgers L. j. 969 (1995).
Available at: SSRN

Popular Sovereignty, Vigilantism and the Constitutional Right of Revolution, 63 Pac. Hist. Rev. 39 (1994), reprinted in The American West (Gordon Morris Bakken & Brenda Farrington eds., 2000).
Available at: SSRN

The Judicial Business of a Nineteenth Century Trial Court: The Northern District of California, 1851-1891, 5 W. Legal Hist. 217 (1992).
Available at: SSRN

More than 'Shreds and Patches': California's First Bill of Rights, 17 Hastings Const. L.Q. 13 (1989).
Available at: SSRN

A Nineteenth Century Habeas Corpus Mill: The Chinese Before the Federal Courts in California, 32 Am. J. Legal Hist. 347 (1988), reprinted in 1 Asian Americans and the Law: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Charles McClain ed., 1995).
Available at: SSRN

Judge Ogden Hoffman and the Northern District Court of California, 1 W. Legal Hist. 99 (1988).

Politics and the Courts: The Struggle Over Land in San Francisco, 1846-1866, 26 Santa Clara L. Rev. 127 (1986).
Available at: SSRN

Judicial Style in California's Federal Admiralty Court: Ogden Hoffman and the First Ten Years, 1851-1861, 64 S. Cal. Q. 125 (1982).
Available at: SSRN

An Entrenched Bill of Rights for the United Kingdom: The Constitutional Dilemma, 10 Anglo-Am. L. Rev. 105 (1981).
Available at: SSRN