Analysis and Commentary Posted in 2014-05

Secret Endless Editing of Published Supreme Court Opinions

Former counsel to the president John Dean comments on a recent public revelation that the U.S. Supreme Court quietly revises its decisions years after they were issued. Drawing upon a forthcoming article by Harvard Law professor Richard Lazarus, Dean describes the process by which the Court releases its rulings to the public. He predicts that it will not be the errors and mistakes that will place the Court’s institutional integrity at risk in the future, but the secretive and dubious means they now use to change their written and published opinions.

Academic Freedom Is Not Immunity From Robust Debate in the Marketplace of Ideas

Cardozo Law School professor Marci Hamilton argues for the importance of academic freedom but distinguishes it from immunity from debate in the marketplace of ideas. She comments on a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request targeting University of Virginia School of Law professor Douglas Laycock for allegedly using university resources for anti-LGBT ends. Hamilton calls the formal FOIA request unnecessary but the intent to question how his public positions on various issues play out in the real world. Hamilton describes a number of positions Laycock has taken publicly that support the view that he is an advocate for extreme religious forces.

Will the Lower Court Consensus on Same-Sex Marriage Influence the Supreme Court?

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses how the lower courts’ consistent rulings in favor of same-sex marriage might influence a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Dorf observes that every single judge to rule on the question has relied on the Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor for the conclusion that SSM bans are unconstitutional. He concludes that while the lower courts’ decisions have no binding effect on the Supreme Court, they might serve as a legal barometer of what is legally plausible and as conduits of public opinion.

A Decade of Change: The Tenth Anniversary of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman reflects on the progress of same-sex marriage in the United States over the past decade. She notes that on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Grossman describes how the movement gained momentum and how the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor contributed substantially to that rapid change. She observes that as of now, 19 states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage, and that number is only going to increase.

The Equality and Coercion Issues Inadequately Addressed in Town of Greece v. Galloway

U.C. Davis law professors Vikram David Amar and Alan Brownstein express their surprise and disappointment at the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, upholding a practice of starting town board meetings with a prayer. Amar and Brownstein argue that the decision inadequately addresses legitimate concerns over the plaintiff challengers’ equality- and liberty-based arguments. They conclude that Justice Kennedy, who authored the opinion, must view reality quite differently from how he did when he authored the majority opinion in Lee v. Weisman and struck down state-sponsored prayers at public middle and high school graduations.

A Conservative Law Professor Points the Way Out of the IRS Scandal-That-Never-Was

Neil Buchanan, a law professor and economist at George Washington University Law School, critiques the so-called IRS scandal of 2013 and one conservative law professor’s persistent attempts to paint it as something it is not. Buchanan explains why the story never amounted to a scandal at all and posits that a recent op-ed by that professor arguing otherwise undermines the reputation of that that professor’s blog as a nonpartisan source of tax-related news.

The Dilemma of Humane Execution and Humane Slaughter

Cornell law professor Sherry Colb discusses the notion of humane killing in the context of the death penalty and the slaughter of animals. She explores the apparent paradoxes of humane executions of criminals and the humane slaughter of animals. Colb concludes that the only way to truly eliminate the suffering of humans and animals during any intentional killing process is to abolish both executions and slaughters.

Federal Judge Turns Back Hunt for Gays in the Department of Justice

Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a federal lawsuit by a conservative group seeking to “expose” the U.S. Department of Justice as having been taken over by gay and lesbian employees. Grossman compares the attempt to 1950s-era McCarthyism and the largely successful effort to purge the federal government of gays and communists at that time. She argues that the district court in this case correctly found that the DOJ was justified in refusing to release sensitive documents pertaining to the sexual orientations of its employees.

Prayers before Meetings of the Town Board of Greece, New York

Ronald Rotunda, law professor at Chapman University, explains why the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway fits solidly within precedent and does not expand it. Rotunda describes the precedential cases on point and argues that Marsh v. Chambers—the Court’s 1983 decision holding that legislative prayers were a long, consistent, historical practice—ultimately determined the outcome of Galloway.

The New Republican Benghazi Inquiry Is All About Money

Former counsel to the president John Dean critiques the most recent Benghazi inquiry led by Speaker of the House John Boehner as merely a thinly veiled fundraising tactic. Dean points out that the findings from seven prior Benghazi investigations are being ignored and that the only possible purpose of another one is to raise money.

The Lessons of the New Mississippi RFRA that Shed Light on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Cases Pending at the Supreme Court

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton argues that the effects of Mississippi’s recent passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) should inform the U.S. Supreme Court as it presently considers two cases arising under the federal RFRA, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Hamilton points out that the new Mississippi law has ignited major conflict between businesses that simply want to do business with willing customers and those who want to impose their beliefs on employees and customers. Hamilton cautions that if the Supreme Court makes the federal RFRA’s language to applicable to organizations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, it will surely cause national unrest.

The Death Penalty in the United States and the Force of Regional Human Rights Law

Justia guest columnist and U.C. Berkeley School of Law professor Saira Mohamed discusses how the recent botched execution in Oklahoma signals the impact regional human rights laws can have beyond borders. Mohamed explains how the development of various European laws and corporate policies have contributed to changes in lethal injection practices in the United States. She notes that European opposition to capital punishment led to the adoption of a European Union regulation restricting trade in drugs that could be used for the purpose of lethal injection. Mohamed concludes that despite the common perception that human rights laws are toothless, limited laws such as those in Europe demonstrate the capacity of human rights law to have wide application, shape state practices, and impact human lives.

Married Couple’s Phone Sex Did Not Force Divorce Clock to Reset

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses a recent decision by a Maryland appeals court holding that a couple’s engaging in phone sex does not constitute cohabitation for the purpose of divorce. Grossman describes the history of fault and no-fault divorce in Maryland and explains why the court reached the decision it did in this case. Although she acknowledges that the court’s reasoning is sound, she presents two considerations that might have supported the opposite conclusion.

The Ninth Circuit Departs From Tinker in Upholding Ban on American Flag T-Shirts in School

Justia columnist and Chapman law professor Ronald Rotunda discusses a Ninth Circuit case holding that a public school could permit students to wear t-shirts bearing the Mexican flag while banning students from wearing shirts with an American flag. Rotunda argues that the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning runs counter to the language and logic of the U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District and its progeny, and effectively sides in favor of the heckler’s veto.

How the Biggest Supreme Court Victory for Affirmative Action a Decade Ago Contributed to the Defeat for Affirmative Action Last Month in the Schuette Case

Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram David Amar discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action upholding the Michigan state constitutional ban on race-based affirmative action. Amar explains how the Court’s 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger—widely regarded as a victory for proponents of affirmative action programs—paradoxically contributed to the outcome in Schuette. Amar concludes that while diversity is a worthwhile rationale for race-based admissions programs, minority students would be better served if that rationale supplemented, rather than a replaced, the original remedial purpose of such programs.

A Limiting Principle for the Donald Sterling Case

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf proposes a limiting principle to explain the NBA’s treatment of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Dorf argues that if private speech can be the basis for employment decisions generally, then Sterling’s example could be highly problematic. If, however, Sterling is understood as having created a hostile work environment under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, then the potentially broad and troubling employment implications of disciplining private speech are appropriately curtailed.

U.S. Supreme Court Considers Whether the Fourth Amendment Allows Reasonable Mistakes of Substantive Law: Part Two of a Two-Part Series of Columns

In the second of a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb continues her discussion of a Fourth Amendment case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Heien v. North Carolina. She explains the history and trajectory of the “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule and predicts that the Court will apply that exception in this case. However, Colb suggests that even doing so might still narrow the scope of the Fourth Amendment’s protections as effectively as would deciding the case directly on the substance of the Fourth Amendment.

Stop Eviscerating Campaign Rules

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean implores the Supreme Court to end its rampage against election laws, beginning with ruling properly in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus. In that case, in which the Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week, two political action committees are challenging an Ohio law that criminalizes false statements in a political contest. Dean compares the state law to defamation law, which he argues is similarly impotent yet faces no such legal challenge, and he calls for an end to the recent trend of Supreme Court decisions effectively dismantling American election laws.

Sex Abuse and Lawlessness in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton describes two recent disappointing developments for survivors of sex abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The first is the plea deal for the man who threw bleach in the face of a venerated advocate of sex abuse survivors, and the second is a community’s celebration of the prison release of a man who attempted to bribe a victim to drop charges against her abuser.

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 Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

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

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

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

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more