William Van Alstyne received his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from the University of Southern California and his law degree from Stanford Law School, where he was the articles and book review editor of the Stanford Law Review. After graduating from law school he was admitted to the bar in California and served briefly as Deputy Attorney General of California before joining the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, where we worked on voting rights cases in the South.
Van Alstyne served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force. Later he was appointed to the faculty of the Ohio State University College of Law. In 1965 he joined the faculty of Duke Law School, where he was named as William R. & Thomas S. Perkins Chair of Law in 1974. In 2004 he left Duke and moved to Marshall-Wythe Law School at the College of William and Mary, where he was appointed Lee Professor of Law.