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He moved to Vienna with his family when he was two years old. He studied law at the University of Vienna, taking his doctorate in 1906. In 1911, he achieved his habilitation (license to hold university lectures) in public law and legal philosophy and published his first major work, Main Problems in the Theory of Public Law (Hauptprobleme der Staatsrechtslehre).
In 1912, Kelsen married Margarete Bondi, and the couple had 2 daughters.
In 1919, he became full professor of public and administrative law at the University of Vienna. He established and edited the Journal of Public Law (Zeitschrift für Öffentliches Recht) in Vienna. At the behest of Chancellor Karl Renner, Kelsen worked on drafting of new Austrian Constitution, enacted in 1920. The document still forms the basis of Austrian constitutional law to this day. Kelsen was appointed to the Constitutional Court, for life term. In 1925, he published General Political Theory (Allgemeine politische Theorie) in Berlin.
Following increasing political controversy about some positions of the Constitutional Court and an increasingly conservative climate, Kelsen, who was a social democrat, was removed from the court in 1930.
In 1940, he moved to the US, giving the Oliver Wendell Holmes Lectures at Harvard Law School in 1942 and becoming a full professor at the department of political science at the University of California at Berkeley in 1945. During those years, he increasingly dealt with issues of international law and international institutions such as the United Nations.
Kelsen is considered one of the preeminent jurists of the 20th century. His legal theory, a very strict and scientifically understood type of positivism, is based on the idea of a Grundnorm, a hypothetical norm on which all subsequent levels of a legal system such as constitutional law and "simple" law are based.
His theory has followers among scholars of public law world-wide. His disciples developed "schools" of thought to extend his theories, such as the Vienna School in Austria and the Brno School in Czechoslovakia.
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