Analysis and Commentary Posted in 2023-12
The Road Not Taken: In 2023 Two Death Penalty States Offer Americans a Clear Choice

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the divergent paths of Florida and Ohio with respect to capital punishment in those states. Professor Sarat argues that it is time for America to make up its mind on the death penalty and either follow Ohio’s path toward a future without capital punishment, bringing this country into line with the community of nations, or else follow Florida’s example by expanding death sentences and executions.

The Religious Liberty Step Too Far That Could Destroy the Common Good If We Let It

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton discusses the transformation of religious liberty in the United States into a force that can harm others, critiquing the misuse of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the rise of radical religious liberty law. Professor Hamilton argues that while religious liberty includes the absolute right to believe and speak about one's religion, it should not extend to conduct that harms others, warning against the dangerous trend of using religious liberty as a weapon against marginalized groups and advocating for a return to the original principles of the First Amendment.

Another Bad Argument Against the Application of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to President Trump: Part Two of a Two-Part Series

In this second of a series of columns, UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar responds to arguments against disqualifying Donald Trump from presidential election ballots under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, focusing on Ross Douthat’s assertion in a New York Times essay that such disqualification is antidemocratic. Professor Amar argues that enforcing constitutional provisions, including Section 3, is not antidemocratic as it reflects the will of the people, and he emphasizes that the real question is whether the requirements of Section 3 have been met in Trump’s case.

Utah Judge Clears the Way for the First Firing Squad Execution in More Than a Decade

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the case of Ralph Leroy Menzies, who has been on Utah’s death row for 35 years and holds conflicting views on his execution: he insists on being executed by firing squad, yet argues that this method constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under Utah’s constitution. Professor Sarat discusses Utah District Judge Coral Sanchez’s ruling that the state could proceed with the execution by firing squad, dismissing Menzies’s argument and granting the state significant discretion in carrying out the execution, even if it cannot guarantee a painless death.

Bad Arguments Against the Application of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment Against President Trump: Part One of a Two-Part Series

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar points out flaws in Professor Larry Lessig’s argument in Slate regarding the inapplicability of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to Donald Trump, emphasizing that the presidency is indeed an “office under the United States” and therefore covered by Section 3. Professor Amar highlights Professor Lessig’s failure to address this key point and questions why Professor Lessig’s essay overlooks the fact that federal legislators are not considered officers under the United States, a crucial distinction in constitutional law.

A Holiday Guide to Donald Trump’s Latest Cases at the Supreme Court

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf points out that the U.S. Supreme Court faces critical decisions in two cases involving former President Donald Trump: one regarding his claim of absolute immunity against charges for his role in attempting to overturn the 2020 election, and the other concerning his eligibility for the Presidency under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Professor Dorf argues that despite Trump’s legal team arguing for more time due to the complexity of the immunity case, the Court should expedite its review in both cases, given the urgency of presidential primaries and the weak nature of Trump’s claims, especially against the well-founded argument that he is ineligible under the Fourteenth Amendment due to insurrectionist activities.

If and When American Democracy Dies, Young People May Be to Blame

Amherst professor Austin Sarat observes that in the United States, democracy faces assaults from MAGA extremists led by Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, the illiberalism of the extreme left, with a notable shift in attitudes among young people who are less attached to democracy compared to older generations. Professor Sarat argues that the deepening political divide, along with the disillusionment of young people with democracy’s perceived failures in addressing issues like social justice and racial equality, poses a significant threat to the future of democratic governance in the country.

The Laws of War

NYU Law professor Samuel Estreicher defends Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas, arguing that its actions in Gaza comply with international humanitarian law, particularly the principles of military necessity, distinction, and proportionality. Professor Estreicher refutes claims that Israel is an “occupying power” in Gaza and that the right of self-defense does not apply to non-state actors like Hamas, comparing Israel’s military actions to those of the U.S. against al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Alabama Acknowledges Dangers of Nitrogen Hypoxia Executions But Wants to Carry One Out Anyway

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses Alabama’s plan to use nitrogen hypoxia for the first time in the execution of Kenneth Smith, raising concerns about its safety and humanity. The method has prompted criticism, including a lawsuit by Reverend Jeff Hood, who argues that Alabama’s requirement for him to maintain distance during the execution infringes on religious liberties and creates a hostile environment for spiritual advisers. Professor Sarat highlights the untested nature of nitrogen hypoxia, its potential for causing seizures and suffocation, and the broader ethical issues surrounding the continued search for a “humane” method of execution.

Justices Thomas and Alito Want a Constitutional Right to Pray Away the Gay

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a case challenging Washington State’s ban on conversion therapy, Tingley v. Ferguson, and specifically the implications of the dissent from Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Professor Dorf explains that their dissenting opinion demonstrates their willingness to invalidate such bans based on free speech, a stance that could undermine the regulation of medical practices. Professor Dorf points out that while a circuit split exists on the legality of conversion therapy bans, the broader concern is the potential impact of the Justices’ views on medical regulation, including recent decisions regarding access to abortion medication like mifepristone.

Going to the Altar: Lisa Sarnoff Gochman’s Book on the Supreme Court

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin recounts her experience reading At the ALTAR of the Appellate Gods: Arguing before the US Supreme Court by Lisa Sarnoff Gochman. Amidst a tragic backdrop of recent violence at UNLV, Professor Griffin reflects on Gochman’s book, which provides a human perspective on appellate law through her experience arguing in the notable Supreme Court case, Apprendi v. New Jersey. As Professor Griffin describes, Gochman’s narrative highlights the challenges and intricacies of presenting a case before the Supreme Court, offering insights into the legal process and the personal journey of an appellate lawyer.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s Legacy: A Beacon of Judicial Restraint and Independence in the Supreme Court

Lauren Stiller Rikleen reflects on the legacy of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, highlighting her respect for judicial restraint and precedent, particularly in cases regarding reproductive rights. Contrasting O’Connor’s approach with the current Supreme Court's inclination influenced by the Federalist Society, Ms. Rikleen suggests that the Court’s current Justices could benefit from O’Connor’s example of independence and commitment to precedent. She also discusses the shift in the Court’s composition and ideology following O’Connor's retirement, noting the increasing influence of the Federalist Society in shaping a judiciary more ideologically driven and less bound by precedent, as exemplified by recent decisions like the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Courts Need to Quickly Dispose of New Attempts to Legitimize the Imperial Presidency

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses former President Donald Trump’s expansive interpretation of presidential power, particularly his claim of immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability for actions taken while in office. Trump’s views, which have been rejected by lower courts, are seen as an extreme version of the “Imperial Presidency” concept warned about by historian Arthur Schlesinger. Professor Sarat argues that courts should expedite and reject Trump’s appeals on these grounds, as granting such sweeping immunity claims would be disastrous for American democracy and the rule of law.

Bad and Worse Ways for the Government to Lose the SEC SCOTUS Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the pending U.S. Supreme Court case SEC v. Jarkesy, which questions the constitutionality of administrative law judges (ALJs) in the SEC and their role in enforcing securities laws. While Professor Dorf believes the Court should reject all three constitutional challenges presented in the case, he suggests that if the Court does rule against the government, the least disruptive outcome would be based on the removal issue rather than the Seventh Amendment or nondelegation claims.

Dear Students, I Don’t Care What You Think

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies emphasizes the importance of critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning in the classroom, stating that while he does not care about the specific opinions of his students, he does care that these opinions are well-supported and thoughtfully articulated. Professor Margulies challenges students to understand and defend their beliefs, whether on controversial topics like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, prison reform, or the war on terror, and he expects them to be aware of the complexities, evidence, and counterarguments related to their views.

God’s Enduring Irony

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies considers the notion of equality and human nature, challenging the idea that monstrous actions make individuals fundamentally different from the rest of society. Professor Margulies argues that recognizing our shared capacity for brutality underscores that even those who commit heinous acts are not inherently “other” and should be held accountable as members of our collective humanity, rather than being cast out or labeled as fundamentally different.

Supreme Court’s Hands-Off Attitude Contributes to Growing Public Doubts about the Death Penalty

Amherst professor Austin Sarat reflects on the Death Penalty Information Center’s year-end report, which highlights both progress in abolishing capital punishment in the U.S. and the Supreme Court’s reluctance to ensure fairness in death penalty cases. Professor Sarat argues that the Supreme Court’s diminishing role in scrutinizing death penalty cases and its tolerance for injustice in these matters may be contributing to growing public skepticism about the death penalty, evidenced by increasing support among lawmakers and the public for its repeal or limitation.

How Important is the Eighth Circuit’s Recent Ruling that the Voting Rights Act Does Not Contain a Private Right of Action? Section 1983 and Ex Parte Young as Workarounds

UC Davis law professor Vikram David Amar argues that a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, holding that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act does not confer a private right to sue, may not be as catastrophic as some fear, given that there are potential workarounds for victims of Voting Rights Act violations. Professor Amar suggests that plaintiffs could use alternatives like 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or Ex Parte Young to address violations, as these routes do not require an explicit or implied private right of action under the statute being violated.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... 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

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

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

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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