Robin Fretwell Wilson

Director, Institute of Government and Public Affairs
Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law
Co-Director, Program in Family Law and Policy
Co-Director, Epstein Health Law and Policy Program
Professor, Department of Pathology, College of Medicine


Robin Fretwell Wilson is the Director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs for the University of Illinois System, of which the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a part, as well as the Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Professor Wilson co-directs the College of Law’s Epstein Health Law and Policy Program and co-directs and founded its Family Law and Policy Program. She specializes in family law and health law, and her research and teaching interests also include biomedical ethics, law and religion, children and violence, and law and science.

Professor Wilson is the author of eighteen books, including her most recent book, Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground, with Yale University Professor William Eskridge, Jr., which is now in paperback at Cambridge University Press. Her other books include: The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law (Cambridge University Press, 2018, ed.); Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008, with Douglas Laycock and Anthony Picarello, eds.); Health Law and Bioethics: Cases in Context (Aspen, 2008, with Joan Krause, Sandra Johnson, and Richard Saver, eds.); Reconceiving the Family: Critical Reflections on the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution (Cambridge University Press, 2006, ed.); and The Handbook of Children, Culture & Violence (Sage Publications, 2006, with Nancy Dowd and Dorothy Singer, eds.). She is also the co-author of a leading case book in domestic relations, Domestic Relations: Cases and Materials, 9th edition (Foundation Press, 2021 with the late Walter Wadlington and Raymond C. O’Brien) and a treatise, Understanding Family Law, 4th edition (LexisNexis, 2013, with John DeWitt Gregory and Peter N. Swisher). Professor Wilson’s book-length examination on the Medicalization of Poverty (with Lois Shepherd and David Shi) was published in China in 2021.

In 2019, Professor Wilson was named a Fulbright Specialist Roster by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and World Learning for work on Civil Rights Complementarity. Professor Wilson will serve as a Fulbright Specialist to in the United Kingdom in Spring 2021, where she will be in residence at Queen Mary University of London as the IHSS Distinguished Visiting Fellow. Professor Wilson has ranked among the Top Ten Family Law Scholars in the United States for scholarly impact in each ranking done by the Leiter Report since 2010. Professor Wilson was also honored as one of the 150 for 150: Celebrating the Accomplishments of Women at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for its sesquicentennial celebration in 2018. She ranks among the Top 10% of Authors in all time downloads on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Professor Wilson’s scholarship has been cited by the Fifth, Seventh and Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, lower federal courts, and the Supreme Courts of Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, and Washington.  

A member of the American Law Institute, Professor Wilson was elected Vice President of the International Society of Family Law in 2020 and served on ISFL’s Executive Committee since 2014. Professor Wilson is a consultant to the United Arab Emirates’ Judicial Department and is assisting them to create a parallel court system for the adjudication by expatriates of family law matters using the laws of their home country or of their faith traditions. She chairs the Law and Religion section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and is the past chair of the AALS’ Section on Family and Juvenile Law and the AALS’ Section on Law, Medicine & Healthcare.

Professor Wilson has worked extensively on behalf of state law reform efforts, helping Utah state lawmakers pass anti-discrimination legislation that balances religious liberty and LGBT rights. In 2007, she received the Citizen’s Legislative Award for her work on changing Virginia’s informed consent law. In 2018, Professor Wilson received the Thomas L. Kane Religious Freedom Award from the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, which is presented annually to an individual who exemplifies the spirit of religious liberty for all and who has contributed in significant ways to the defense of religious freedom in the public square.

Professor Wilson is the founder and directs the Fairness for All Initiative, which seeks to provide tangible support and advice to thought-leaders, stakeholders, policymakers, and state and local legislators who seek balanced approaches that respect both LGBT rights and religious freedom. The Fairness for All Initiative is made possible by the generous support of the Templeton Religion Trust. Professor Wilson is the founder and director of the Tolerance Means Dialogues, a gift-supported effort to generate dialogue around deeply contested questions in civil society. She is joined in that effort by prominent gay rights leaders and sitting legislators.

Professor Wilson holds appointments at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine in the Department of Biomedical and Translational Sciences and the University of Illinois College of Medicine Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Pathology. Professor Wilson is a co-investigator with researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the National Center for State Courts on access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an in-depth of racial disparities. She is also a co-principal investigator on a study support by the MacArthur Foundation of Community Health Workers as Citizen Scientists, which will work with Black and Latin-x teens and young adults in the City of Chicago. Professor Wilson is a co-principal investigator with faculty at the University of Illinois College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) on a project supported by the National Science Foundation examining “Family Court Decisions About Child Custody in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence.”

Professor Wilson’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic Monthly, U.S. News and World Report, ABA Journal, Chronicle of Higher Education, Chicago Tribune, CNN Headline News, Good Morning America, ABC News, CBS News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Essence Magazine, The American Prospect, People Magazine, The American Conservative, The Australian, The Guardian and Al Jazeera, among others. She has presented her research across the world, including the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, China, Israel, Qatar, the Netherlands, Italy, England, Wales, Poland, Spain, Serbia, Japan, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey, and France.

Prior to joining the University of Illinois College of Law, Professor Wilson was the Class of 1958 Law Alumni Professor of Law at Washington & Lee School of Law, where she was named Professor of the Year by the Women Law Students Organization. A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Professor Wilson clerked for The Honorable E. Grady Jolly on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and practiced at Fulbright & Jaworski, LLP and Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton, LLP.


BA, JD University of Virginia

Areas of Expertise

Biomedical Ethics
Children and the Law
Family Law
Health Law
Insurance Law
Religious Liberty


Family Law
Biomedical Ethics
Children’s Health, Violence, and the Law
Meaning of Tolerance

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, LGBT RIGHTS, AND THE PROSPECTS FOR COMMON GROUND (William N. Eskridge, Jr. & Robin Fretwell Wilson, eds., Cambridge University Press, 2018)

  • Reviewed in Mark David Hall, The Road to Compromise, LAW & LIBERTY (March 4, 2019)
  • Reviewed in Kathie Obradovich, What If Iowa Could Protect Both Religious Freedom and LGBTQ Rights?, Des Moines Register (May, 2019)
  • Book Discussion: University of Idaho School of Law (February 21, 2019) (with Idaho Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Idaho Senator Grant Burgoyne, Idaho Representative John McCrostie, Professor Shaakirah Sanders)
  • Book Discussion: College of William & Mary (October 18, 2019)
  • Book Discussion: Yale Law School (March 21, 2019)
  • Book Discussion: Case Western Reserve University (March 27, 2019) (with Shannon Minter and Professor Jessie Hill)
  • Book Discussion: Iowa State House (April 10, 2019)

THE CONTESTED PLACE OF RELIGION IN FAMILY LAW (Robin Fretwell Wilson, ed., Cambridge University Press, 2018)

  • Reviewed in Marie Failinger, Review of The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law, 2019 UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW ONLINE 101; Kathleen A. Brady, Review of The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law, 7 OXFORD JOURNAL OF LAW & RELIGION 364 (2018); Douglas Laycock, Review of The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law, JOURNAL OF CHURCH & STATE (April 1, 2019); Stephanie H. Barclay, A Dialogue about Religious Beliefs and Third-Party Harms in Family Law, FAMILY LAW QUARTERLY (2019)

FAMILY LAW IN PERSPECTIVE, 4th edition (Foundation Press, 2018) (with Walter Wadlington and Raymond C. O’Brien)

  • Translated into Chinese

DOMESTIC RELATIONS: CASES AND MATERIALS, 8th edition (Walter Wadlington, Raymond C. O’Brien, & Robin Fretwell Wilson, Foundation Press, 2017) (under contract)


STRATEGIES AND TECHNIQUES FOR TEACHING FAMILY LAW (Robin Fretwell Wilson, Aspen Publishers, 2014)

UNDERSTANDING FAMILY LAW, 4th edition (John DeWitt Gregory, Peter N. Swisher, & Robin Fretwell Wilson, LexisNexis, 2013)

HEALTH LAW AND BIOETHICS: CASES IN CONTEXT (Sandra H. Johnson, Joan H. Krause, Richard S. Saver, & Robin Fretwell Wilson, eds., Aspen Publishers, 2009)

  • Cited in Paul Gelsinger, Seeking Justice for My Son, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 17, 2009 and Robin Fretwell Wilson, Human-Research Oversight is too Lax, Arizona Daily Star, Sept. 21, 2009

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: EMERGING CONFLICTS (Douglas Laycock, Anthony R. Picarello, Jr., & Robin Fretwell Wilson, eds., Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008)

  • Reviewed or featured in David Cole, The Same-Sex Future, New York Review of Books (July 2, 2009), Robert Vischer, Commonweal Magazine (August 2009), Shannon Gilreath, Not a Moral Issue: Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty, 2010 Illinois L. Rev. 205  and Don Gilgaff, U.S. News and World Report (May 2009), among other publications


  • Featured in Lashieka Purvis Hunter, Essence (Nov. 2012), Leah Ward Sears, A Case for Stengthening Marriage, The Washington Post (Oct. 30, 2006), Robin Fretwell Wilson, Don’t Let Divorce Off the Hook, N. Y. Times (Oct. 1, 2006), and Claudia Anderson, Defining Families Down, The Weekly Standard (Sept. 25, 2006), among other publications

HANDBOOK OF CHILDREN, CULTURE & VIOLENCE (Nancy Dowd, Dorothy G. Singer & Robin Fretwell Wilson, eds., Sage Press, 2006)

MEDICAL ETHICS AND PROFESSIONALISM: A SYNOPSIS FOR STUDENTS AND RESIDENTS (2002) (co-author with members of the University of South Carolina Center for Biomedical Ethics)

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