Analysis and Commentary Posted in 2017-07

The High Long-Term Costs of Engaging in Torture

Illinois Law professor Lesley Wexler explains the significance of the Canadian government’s recent settlement with and apology to Omar Khadr, a 15-year-old Canadian member of al-Qaeda who fought against the United States in Afghanistan. Wexler explains that while a majority of Canadians oppose the settlement, Prime Minister Trudeau has chosen to pay the political and economic price for his predecessor’s decision to allow Canadian interrogators to participate in the Guantanamo regime and for his refusal to seek Khadr’s return to Canada.

The Democrats’ Better Way: Positive Messaging or Pandering to Trump Voters Who Are Never Coming Back?

George Washington law professor and economist praises Democrats for coming up with a message that preserves the party’s commitment to social justice issues, rather than attempting to woo Trump voters by appealing to what Trump appealed to. Buchanan cites evidence supporting the argument that Democrats can retake the House in 2018 without sacrificing principles to win back Trump voters, by instead focusing on those who didn’t vote in 2016.

An Attorney General Under (Friendly) Fire: Why Removing Jeff Sessions Is Beside the Point in President Trump’s War Against Robert Mueller

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar argues, contrary to the consensus of legal pundits, that President Trump likely does not have to dispose of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in order to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Amar provides three reasons for his conclusion that the disposition of Sessions is beside the point in the president’s war against Mueller, but he points out that there are more downsides to getting rid of Sessions (for Trump) than there are upsides.

Would a Trump Self-Pardon Precipitate a Constitutional Crisis?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that if President Trump were to pardon himself, that action itself would not cause a constitutional crisis, but other actions Trump has already taken have already placed us far along a road to a constitutional crisis. Dorf defines a constitutional crisis in terms of three types first articulated by Sanford Levinson and Jack Balkin in a 2009 law review article, and Dorf proposes a fourth type characterized by defiance of unwritten norms that are not themselves legal obligations but that undergird the constitutional system as a whole.

Unprotected: Lesbian Co-Parent in Idaho Has No Rights to Her Partner’s Biological Child

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by the Idaho Supreme Court taking a narrow view of the parental rights of lesbian co-parents. Grossman explains the background of that case and the patchwork of laws state courts across the United States use to reach inconsistent, and often unpredictable, results with respect to the parental rights of unmarried same-sex partners.

Trump’s Mueller Scheming Will Fail

John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, comments on President Trump’s expressed displeasure with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and his apparent concern about the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Dean answers several questions raised by these and related stories.

So When Will Religious Organizations Choose Not to Discriminate?

Leading church-state scholar Marci A. Hamilton comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in which it held that a female principal of a Catholic school has no legal recourse when a priest engages in gender discrimination that would be actionable in any other setting. Hamilton explains that this is a product of the misguided ministerial exception, which is part of a larger, more troubling social pattern of religious entities demanding a right to discriminate and harm others.

California Considers Bill to Regulate (But Not Prohibit) Child Marriage

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments critically on a California bill that would regulate (but not prohibit) child marriage. Colb argues that the law, which in its current proposed form would allow parents and courts to give consent for a minor child to marry, disregards important norms about children’s rights and the importance of real consent to a sexual relationship.

Some Aspects of the Matal v. Tam Trademark Case That Would Have Benefitted from More Explanation

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Matal v. Tam, in which the Court struck down as unconstitutional part of the federal trademark registration statute that prohibits registration of disparaging marks. Amar points out that the Court’s decision in Matal is difficult to square with its reasoning and holding in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Soldiers, a case from two years ago in which the Court upheld Texas’s refusal to approve a specialty license plate design that made extensive use of the Confederate flag image.

There Actually Are Some Good Tax Reform Ideas Out There

George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan continues his discussion of tax reform, suggesting that a starting place for meaningful reform would be to tax wealth more effectively, tax unrealized gains, and eliminate the preferential tax rates for investment income. Buchanan points out that even modest changes in these areas would significantly address the problem of growing economic inequality in our country.

Can a Presidential Candidate Get Away With Defamatory Lying?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf analyzes the arguments made by Donald Trump’s lawyers in defending against Summer Zervos’s defamation suit against him, specifically the argument that Trump’s comments were mere “hyperbole” and “fiery rhetoric,” which, in the context of a presidential campaign, do not amount to defamation under state law. Dorf argues that existing law already offers politicians some protections against frivolous lawsuits, and what Trump’s lawyers are asking for is essentially a license for a candidate to lie about anyone and anything so long as the controversy has some connection to politics.

Distractions and Non-Issues in the Tax Reform Debate

In this first of a series of columns on tax reform, George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan describes a few items that should not be seriously considered in attempting to improve the status quo. Buchanan argues that the notion of a complete overhaul of the tax code, and the proposal that the tax code should be “simpler,” ignore important considerations and distract from real issues.

Altemeyer on Trump’s Supporters

John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, relates the research and words of psychology professor Bob Altemeyer as the latter explains how difficult it would be to change the minds of supporters of Donald Trump. Based on Altemeyer’s observations, Dean proposes the only way for Democrats to succeed in 2018 and 2020 is to focus on getting sympathetic non-voters—who outnumber right-wing authoritarians in the general population—to the polls.

Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer at the Supreme Court: Be Careful What They Wish For

Marci A. Hamilton, a leading church/state scholar and Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, which Hamilton argues reflects a common-sense application of existing jurisprudence on the Free Exercise Clause. Hamilton laments that legislators are not acting with the same level of common sense as they develop and interpret dangerous Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

When Should Encouraging Suicide Be a Crime?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent tragic incident in which a young man committed suicide under the encouragement via text message by his girlfriend. Colb considers whether her conviction by a Massachusetts judge of involuntary manslaughter was appropriate and just, and discusses some of the issues that her conviction raises, including free speech, the right to die, and traditional conceptions of causation and responsibility.

Independence Day: The Texas Supreme Court Refuses to Hold That the Federal Constitutional Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Has Full Force in Texas

SMU Dedman School of Law professors Joanna L. Grossman and Dale Carpenter comment on a recent decision by the Texas Supreme Court in which it refuses to give effect to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. Grossman and Carpenter explain why the Texas court’s decision was clearly wrong and why factors other than merits might have (though they should not have) affected the ruling in that case.

Puzzles About Police Violence

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies considers why it is so difficult for people to have productive conversations about police shootings. Margulies calls upon us to ask not whether an officer involved in a shooting is a monster or a hero, but instead whether tomorrow we can do better.

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