Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes how the U.S. Supreme Court purported to allow the state of Kansas to substitute one insanity defense for another, but in fact approved its abolishment of the insanity defense altogether. Colb explains the difference between the insanity defense—an affirmative defense to the commission of a crime—and facts that negate mens rea—the mental element of a crime. Colb also notes how in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer made a case for veganism, albeit probably inadvertently.
In this first of a two-part series of columns about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the “faithless elector” cases, Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar expresses disappointment that the majority opinion—authored by Justice Elena Kagan—and concurring opinion—by Justice Clarence Thomas—are not as well reasoned or careful as they could be. Amar points out some of the ways in which the opinions fall short, noting some of the arguments that merited more discussion, or at least more thorough consideration.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the recent incident in which Amy Cooper, a young white woman, called the police on Christian Cooper, an African American man who was birdwatching in Central Park. Margulies argues that the repercussions of Ms. Cooper’s actions—her suffering public ridicule and losing the valuable commodity of anonymity—achieve both the consequentialist and retributivist purposes of our penal system, so for the state to prosecute her as well would serve only to humiliate and demonize her
University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton draws upon a strategy used by anti-abortion advocates in suggesting a way to encourage (or coerce) more people into wearing masks to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Hamilton proposes requiring persons who opt not to wear a mask in public (1) to watch, on a large screen, an adult's beating heart for 30 seconds, and (2) to be read a statement about how their decision unreasonably endangers others.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on three recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in which religion has won, at the expense of women. Griffin explains why the Court’s decisions in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (and the consolidated case, St. James School v. Biel), Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania (and the consolidated case, Trump v. Pennsylvania), and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue together amount to sanctioned and government-funded discrimination masquerading as religious freedom.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on President Trump’s Fourth of July speeches, in which the President described a nation at war with itself and its legacy. Sarat points out the irony of Trump accusing others of lying about or attempting to erase the past, and he notes that Trump’s own distortion of historical facts is a tactic that authoritarian, fascist, and totalitarian regimes have used in the past to legitimize the regime or erase inconvenient truths.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent Executive Order issued by President Trump calling for the creation of a “National Garden of American Heroes.” Dorf argues that we should recognize the Executive Order for the distraction that it mostly is and points out some of the Order’s fallacies, ambiguities, and inconsistencies.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on a religious liberty issue presented by the upcoming execution of Wesley Ira Purkey. Sarat explains that Purkey’s spiritual advisor is unable to attend Purkey’s execution due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he points out that for the federal government to carry out the execution anyway would belie its purported commitment to religious liberty.
NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and rising 2L Christopher Ioannou discuss how New York workers’ compensation law might apply to workers infected with COVID-19. Estreicher and Ioannou argue that despite some shortcomings of the workers’ compensation system, we should not take for granted its ability to allow workers to quickly receive medical attention and some amount of lost wages.
Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers three observations on a measure recently approved by the California legislature that would, if approved by the voters, repeal Proposition 209, the voter initiative that has prohibited affirmative action by the state and its subdivisions since its passage in 1996. Amar praises the California legislature for seeking to repeal Prop 209 and for seeking to do so using the proper procedures, and he suggests that if Prop 209 is repealed, legal rationales for the use of race should be based not only on the value of diversity (as they have been for some time now), but also on the need to remedy past wrongs against Black Americans.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the policy question of whether, since the Constitution requires jury unanimity to convict a defendant of a serious crime, states should require a unanimous verdict to acquit a defendant, as well. Colb describes the reasons behind jury unanimity convictions and assesses whether they apply similarly to acquittals.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June Medical Services v. Russo, in which a 5-4 majority of the Court struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion providers. Grossman describes the history of abortion decisions that got us to this place today and explains why the core right to seek a previability abortion without undue burden from the government remains intact.
Jareb Gleckel assesses what Chief Justice John Roberts’s concurrence in the June Medical decision might tell us about the future of abortion in the United States. Gleckel suggests that the concurrence suggests that the Chief Justice will not vote to overrule Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey but cautions that the test the Chief Justice embraces could provide a roadmap for anti-abortion states going forward.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explores the idea of defunding the police, pointing out that we must first ask what tasks can only be performed by the police, and then ask the corollary question what tasks should the police do. Margulies uses several examples to illustrate the point that many tasks that we reflexively assign to the police can be better handled by others, and by assigning these tasks to others, we can effectively shrink the role of police in our society.
Touro law professor Rodger D. Citron analyzes the oral arguments in the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding demands for President Trump’s financial records. Citron explains why it seems likely that the Court will reverse the lower courts’ decisions refusing to quash the House committee subpoenas and offers a number of observations based on his review of the transcript.
NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and rising 3L Daniel Folsom comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, in which the Court interpreted a provision of the Clean Water. Estreicher and Folsom argue that the case presented an opportunity to clarify the murky question of when the Chevron doctrine applies, yet the Court avoided answering that question.
UCLA law professor Joanna C. Schwartz and South Carolina law professor Seth W. Stoughton address some of the arguments commonly asserted to support qualified immunity, the doctrine that shields police officers from civil liability for constitutional violations. Schwartz and Stoughton argue that eliminating qualified immunity should not affect police decision-making and that existing Supreme Court doctrine gives police officers plenty of leeway to make mistakes without violating the Constitution. Because qualified immunity applies only to unreasonable actions by police officers, eliminating or substantially restricting it should not a chilling effect on police officers’ ability or willingness to respond to critical incidents.
In this second of a two-part series of columns considering the likelihood that President Trump will refuse to leave the White House even if he loses the election, UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan describes the bad news that Trump and his supporters seem likely to use violence to keep him in office.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on a decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit holding that U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan exceeded his power by refusing to grant the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the case against Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security advisor. Sarat explains the relationship between the judiciary and prosecutors and points out that that judicial deference toward prosecutorial decisions can only be reconciled with constitutional governance if prosecutors respect, and are guided by, canons of integrity and professionalism. Sarat argues that the current leadership of the Justice Department shows utter disdain for such canons.
In this two-part series of columns, UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan discusses some new reasons for guarded optimism that Americans are beginning to recognize—and thus might be able to mitigate—the danger Donald Trump represents to American democracy. In this first part, Buchanan grounds his guarded optimism in Joe Biden’s expressly voicing concern that Trump will not leave the White House if he loses the election.