“A Tragic Mistake”: Understanding the Aftermath of the Kabul Drone Strike— Part I: Detecting Mistakes and No Required Reparations

In this first of a three-part series of columns on the Kabul drone strike in August that killed numerous civilians, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler raises two key concerns: that civil society rather than the government brought the mistake to light, and that there is no legal requirement to pay reparations. Professor Wexler describes the reasons behind our reliance on journalists and civil society to investigate problems like this strike and explains the relevant laws of war that allow the victims’ families to go uncompensated.

Abortion and the Adoption Option

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to the anti-abortion argument that anyone who does not want to keep a baby can and should give them up for adoption. Professor Colb points out that the pain and discomfort associated with carrying a child to term are tolerable only if one wants to keep the resulting baby; if one does not want or cannot keep a child, then pregnancy is intimate and intense suffering in a way that may be intolerable for the woman.

Why September 17 Is Neither the Only nor Necessarily the Best Day to Celebrate America’s True Constitutional Tradition

In light of Congress’s designation of today, September 17, as “Constitution Day,” Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone explain what this date celebrates and what it overlooks. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone point out that while we should celebrate the drafters at the Philadelphia Convention, we should not disregard the imperfections in their work, or the ways in which Americans have worked to correct those imperfections.

Why Do We Continue to Use Loaded Words Even When We Know that They Have No Meaning?

UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explores the frequent phenomenon where people fall back on empty words and phrases, even when they have been convinced that those phrases are empty. Professor Buchanan relates some anecdotes demonstrating the phenomenon and calls for people to relearn and remember when they are saying words that communicate nothing, lest they lapse into reinforcing meaninglessness.

Would Overruling Roe v. Wade Retroactively Reanimate “Zombie” Abortion Laws?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses an often overlooked procedural aspect related to Texas’s extreme anti-abortion law that could result in “zombie” laws taking effect in every other red state. Professor Dorf argues that there are several reasons to hope that a state scheme to retroactively enforce zombie abortion laws would fail, even if the Supreme Court curtails or eliminates the abortion right itself, not the least of which is that retroactive application of zombie laws is fundamentally unfair.

Looking Beyond Next Week’s California Gubernatorial Recall Election: The Case for Legislative Reform Rather Than Judicial Intervention

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar argues that legislative reform is the best response if Californians want to change the gubernatorial recall election process. Dean Amar points out that legislators who wish to act should do so before—rather than after—the results of the upcoming election come in, so as to deflect any concerns that they might be motivated by partisanship, even though the reform possibilities may not be facially partisan.

Some Think Dylann Roof Deserves to Die, But Executing Him Lets Hatred Carry the Day

Amherst College professor Austin Sarat responds to a federal appellate court decision upholding the conviction and death sentence of Dylann Roof for the 2015 murders of nine members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, during a meeting of a Bible-study group. Professor Sarat argues that the death penalty is inappropriate even for one of this nation’s most reviled mass murderers because capital punishment has no place in a democratic society.

Texas Plays Chess with Pro-Choice Pawns

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a blatantly unconstitutional Texas anti-abortion law that the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to enjoin, pointing out the unusual structure of the legislation and the hypocrisy of “conservatives” who support it. Noting from the outset that the so-called heartbeat to which the legislation refers is not from an actual heart, but pulsing, undifferentiated cells, Professor Colb highlights the hypocrisy of so-called conservatives who favor insulating most civil defendants from suit while inviting nearly anyone to sue for “aiding and abetting” performance of an abortion.

Abolitionists Must Put Reviving Clemency in Capital Cases High on Their Agenda

Amherst College professor Austin Sarat explains why death penalty abolitionists should prioritize seeking grants of clemency in capital cases. Professor Sarat points to studies showing that the use of clemency in individual capital cases has lagged behind a larger trend of states turning away from capital punishment and argues that we as a nation should demand from our leaders the courage and conviction to see people worth saving on death row and to exercise mercy toward them.

Dear Young People: You WANT Congress to Kick the Can Down the Road on Social Security

UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why there is not an impending Social Security crisis, and in fact, anything Congress might do over the next decade or so in response to this nonexistent crisis will actually make matters worse, especially for young people themselves. Professor Buchanan describes why and how journalists misunderstand the Social Security Trustees’ 2021 annual report and argues that if Congress reacts by changing Social Security, it would essentially guarantee that today’s young people would be harmed, even if the Trustees’ forecasts turn out to be wrong.

A Strange Type of Federalism Awaits Us in Republicans’ Upcoming One-Party Autocracy

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan considers the future of federalism when Republicans have forced the United States into a one-party autocracy. Professor Buchanan argues that while conservatives have long claimed to favor states’ rights, they will be unlikely to support states’ rights when Republicans control the federal government and are insulated from competition.

Mexican Government Lawsuit Against U.S. Gun Makers Tests the Limits of Territoriality

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses a lawsuit in which the government of Mexico is suing U.S. firearms manufacturers in federal court for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent their weapons from ending up in Mexico, profit from the trafficking of U.S.-made guns to Mexico, and in some respects deliberately target the illegal Mexican market. Professor Dorf argues that while the lawsuit presents strong moral and policy grounds for granting the Mexican government the relief it seeks, a 2005 federal statute, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), will likely prevent it from succeeding.

Statehood for D.C. Could Not Be Reversed

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan explains why, if the District of Columbia was recognized as a state, that recognition cannot later be reversed. Professor Buchanan argues that to reverse statehood would signal a slippery slope wherein Republicans would be empowered to go well beyond suppressing votes in swing states to instead removing statehood from regions with Democratic voters.

The Court’s Partisan Rules on Executive Power

Steven D. Schwinn, a professor of law at the University of Illinois Chicago John Marshall Law School argues that the Supreme Court’s order last week effectively striking down the COVID-19 eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control reflects the Court’s highly partisan approach to executive authority. Professor Schwinn points out that only partisanship can explain why Court upheld the Trump administration’s travel ban in Trump v. Hawaii and struck down the Biden administration’s eviction moratorium.

Capitol Police Officer Reminds Americans That Saving Democracy Requires Courage

Amherst College professor Austin Sarat and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comment on an interview of Capitol Police Officer Michael Byrd regarding his role defending against the January 6 riot, and on Donald Trump’s response to Byrd. Professor Sarat and Mr. Aftergut argue that Byrd’s interview reminds us that the best way to deal with a bully who is himself a coward is to call his bluff.

Dead Democracy Walking

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan describes the United States today as a “dead democracy walking”—walking with mortal wounds but not yet dead. While stating that he is open to the possibility of being proven wrong, Professor Buchanan explains why believes that Trump and Republicans have corrupted the American political system beyond repair, and he notes that his subsequent writings and analysis will proceed from the assumption that democracy will soon be dead in this country.

Continuing The Conversation Over the Constitutionality of California’s Recall Mechanism: Why We Are More Convinced Than Ever Before That Equal Protection Challenges to It Lack Merit

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and Michigan Law dean emeritus Evan Caminker continue their conversation with Berkeley Law professor Aaron Edlin and dean Erwin Chemerinsky about the constitutionality of California’s recall mechanism. Deans Amar and Caminker respond to critiques of their arguments and explain why they have grown even stronger in their belief that that equal protection challenges to the recall mechanism are misguided.

The Justice Department’s OLC Thinks Your Company Can Mandate the COVID-19 Vaccine, Even If Not Fully Approved

Elena J. Voss, associate general counsel at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and NYU Law professor Samuel Estreicher, dissect an opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel that squarely answers in the negative the question whether the Emergency Use Authorization status of COVID-19 vaccines precludes public or private entities from mandating those vaccines. Ms. Voss and Professor Estreicher point out that while the OLC opinion is neither binding nor authoritative, it is well-reasoned and indicative of the Biden administration’s view on this topic and can provide some assurance to employers who wish to implement a vaccine mandate.

Hate Crimes and Free Speech

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why the view that hate crime legislation violates the freedom of speech is incorrect and has radical and undesirable logical implications. Professor Colb points out that speech in this context is used as a basis for inferring a person’s motive, and people generally agree that motive can be a relevant consideration in determining whether certain conduct is permissible.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is the Dwight D. Opperman Professor, Director, Center for Labor and Employment... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Fels Institute of Government Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more