Zephyr Rain Teachout was born in Seattle, Washington, on October 24, 1971, but grew up in Norwich, Vermont. Her father, Peter, is a constitutional law professor; her mother, Mary, is a state court judge. In 1993, Teachout earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University.
While riding in an elevator one day in 1994, Teachout happened to strike up a conversation with the chief-of-staff to Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who at that time was preparing to launch his re-election bid. Soon thereafter, Teachout was hired as the Dean campaign’s operations director and quickly became part of the governor’s inner circle.
In 1999, Teachout received an MA in political science as well as a Juris Doctor degree, both from Duke University. After completing her formal education, she worked variously as a special education teacher, a law clerk for federal appellate judge Edward Becker, and a staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina.
When Howard Dean in 2003 decided to seek the Democratic Party‘s nomination for president, Teachout moved back to Vermont and joined his campaign as an online organizer. Though Dean failed to secure the nomination, Teachout established herself as a recognized authority on how to use the Internet to organize and mobilize supporters more effectively in the political process. She later turned the experience into a 2007 book, Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope: Lessons from the Howard Dean Campaign for the Future of Internet Politics.
In 2005, Teachout was a non-residential fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. During 2005-06, she was a lecturer at the University of Vermont, teaching courses in international relations as well as “Internet and Politics.” She also drafted briefs in environmental law, tort law, energy law, and federal administrative law for the firm of Shems, Dunkiel, Kassel & Saunders.
From 2006-07, Teachout served as the first national director of the Sunlight Foundation. She became a visiting assistant professor at Duke University in 2007, and has been an associate professor at Fordham Law School since 2009.
Teachout was active with the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement which began in 2011. She spent time educating OWS protesters on corporate law and remarked that “once you get into a room [with them],… the biggest excitement is about breaking up big companies.” In 2015, Teachout reflected: “I think Occupy was incredibly important” for “protesting the political and economic power of big banks.”
In 2014, Teachout ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination against New York’s incumbent governor, Andrew Cuomo. She ran on a populist platform claiming that the American political system was rigged in favor of big banks, corporations, and the wealthy.
In 2015, Teachout stated that “part of the reason the [conservative] Tea Party [movement] has resonated is that people feel disempowered” and “the Tea Party says, ‘You are out of power because of big government’.” “I think the correct response,” Teachout continued, “is … ‘you’re not out of power because of big government, you’re out of power because of a handful of corporate interests that have taken over politics’.”
In 2015 as well, Teachout said: “Oftentimes people get it wrong when they say we need to educate voters first and then give them power. I tend to favor giving them power first. When people feel like they have power over a decision, they’ll learn about it.”
In 2016 Teachout ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in New York’s 19th Congressional District, but was defeated by Republican John Faso. Her campaign received strong support and/or endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Charles Schumer, the National Education Association, EMILY’s List, the Sierra Club, Our Revolution, and the Working Families Party.
Teachout and several other lawyers sued President Donald Trump three days after his January 20, 2017 inauguration. The suit charged that Trump had violated the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution by using the office of the presidency to enrich himself financially.
In 2018, Teachout announced that she was running for attorney general of New York State. She pledged that if she were to be elected, she would: (a) face “head-on this crisis in our democracy, where people feel like the same laws don’t apply to the rich and the poor”; and (b) “use all the resources of our law and history” to “stan[d] up against the lawlessness and corruption of the Trump administration.”
In past years, Teachout provided consulting services to citizen-journalism projects and nonprofit organizations such as The War Tapes (an anti-Iraq War initiative); Music for America (which aims “to engage young people in progressive politics through partnerships with musicians and music communities”); Current TV (a cable network co-founded by Al Gore); the International Rescue Committee (which seeks to “help people affected by crisis” worldwide); and America Coming Together. In addition, Teachout was a co-founder and executive director of the Durham-based Fair Trial Initiative, which maintains that “until the systemic inequalities of the criminal justice system are addressed, irrelevant factors like poverty, race, gender, and geography will continue to define who receives our nation’s most serious punishment.”
For additional information on Zephyr Teachout, click here.
Further Reading: “Zephyr Teachout” (Fordham University School of Law, NewAmerica.org, Harvard.edu, and Keywiki.org); “Zephyr Rain Teachout J.D. … Accidental Internet Guru” (Duke Magazine, 11-30-2007); “Zephyr Teachout Puts America’s Corporate Elites On Notice” (Huffington Post, 5-6-2015); “Zephyr Teachout: The Contender” (Guernicamag.com, 3-2-2015).