Supreme Court “Bump Stock” Case Reveals the Limits of Statutory Interpretation

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent 6-3 decision in Garland v. Cargill, which invalidated a federal regulation banning bump stocks by finding that they do not fall under the statutory definition of a machinegun. Professor Dorf argues that the Justices’ ideological views on gun control, rather than principled differences in interpretive methodology, best explain the divided outcome in this case and many other closely contested Supreme Court cases.

Hunter Biden’s Woes Reveal Joe Biden’s Character and the Kind of Father He Is

Amherst professor Austin Sarat examines how President Joe Biden has handled his son Hunter Biden’s legal troubles and what it reveals about the President’s character. Professor Sarat argues that throughout Hunter’s struggles, Joe Biden has demonstrated unfailing loyalty, love, and self-restraint—important character traits for a leader—and that voters can be assured of the President’s strong character based on how he has responded to this challenging situation.

Survivors Win in Louisiana—On Their Second Effort

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin discusses a recent Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the state legislature’s decision to extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse survivors to sue their abusers. Professor Griffin argues that this ruling correctly prioritized the rights of abuse survivors over the property rights of defendants, and that it represents an important victory for victims seeking justice, although uncertainty remains regarding the impact of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ bankruptcy filing on survivors’ ability to have their day in court.

How Changing Ballot-Access Rules in an Election Year Can Raise Constitutional Problems: The Illinois Colazzo Case

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar discusses a recent Illinois state court ruling in Colazzo v. Illinois State Board of Elections, which dealt with the complex issue of ballot access and the application of a new state law that would have prevented certain Republican candidates from appearing on the November 2024 general election ballot. Professor Amar argues that while the court reached the correct result in this case, the reasoning behind the decision raises interesting questions about the independence of state law grounds, the constraints on altering election rules close to an election, and the need to balance fairness and notice concerns with the importance of each election in maintaining democratic integrity.

An Insurrection by Other Means: Will Lawyers Lead the Next Coup Attempt?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the potential threat to the U.S. Constitution and rule of law posed by a second Trump presidency, as indicated by the statements and plans of Trump and his allies. Professor Sarat argues that defenders of democracy must take seriously what Trump’s advisors are saying about their intentions to radically transform the constitutional order, and be prepared to resist their efforts to subvert long-established legal norms and principles.

Justice Barrett May Serve as a Bridge Between Ideological Sides in the Trump Presidential Immunity Case

Criminal defense attorney Jon May discusses the oral argument the U.S. Supreme Court heard on April 25, 2024, regarding Donald Trump’s argument that the “January 6” case against him should be barred by presidential immunity. Mr. May argues that while some Justices are concerned about the implications of limiting presidential immunity, Justice Barrett’s approach of distinguishing between official acts done in the national interest and the misuse of presidential power for personal gain is a workable solution that would allow the prosecution of Trump’s actions on January 6 without negatively impacting future presidents making difficult decisions.

So Near and Yet So Far: Charitable Life After Death

Stanford Law visiting professor Joanna L. Grossman and professor Lawrence M. Friedman discuss the tension between donors who place restrictions on their charitable gifts and the organizations that receive those gifts, focusing on the current legal battle involving the Orlando Museum of Art’s attempt to use funds from the Margaret Young trust for purposes other than those specified by the donor. Professors Grossman and Friedman argue that while the law generally favors upholding donor intent, there are situations where courts may allow modifications to the terms of a charitable gift, especially when the original purpose becomes impractical or wasteful over time, and they suggest that donors should be cautious about being too specific in their instructions to avoid such issues.

Is Criminal Prosecution Destined to Become a Regular Tool of Political Combat in the United States?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the reactions of former President Trump and his allies to his conviction in the New York hush money trial, including their claims that the prosecutions against him are politically motivated and their threats to retaliate with prosecutions against Democrats if Trump is re-elected. Professor Sarat argues that these false allegations and threats represent a dangerous escalation in the MAGA campaign to discredit the rule of law and turn criminal prosecution into a tool of political combat, which would undermine fundamental freedoms and allow future presidents to target individuals based on their political views rather than actual crimes committed.

Advice to Alumni Donors: Pay the Piper but Don’t Call the Tune

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the challenge faced by colleges and universities in accepting donations from wealthy alumni and other benefactors while maintaining academic freedom and independence from ideological influence. Professor Dorf argues that while donors have the right to direct their funds to specific purposes, they should refrain from using their financial leverage to unduly influence hiring decisions or curriculum, as doing so undermines the scholarly and pedagogical judgment that is essential to the success and value of these institutions.

Second Circuit Rebuffs Starbucks Strategy of Seeking Rank-and-File Employee Discovery in Labor Law Injunction Proceeding

NYU Law professor Samuel Estreicher and Peter Rawlings, J.D., discuss the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Leslie v. Starbucks Corp., in which the court vacated a district court’s approval of broad subpoenas served by Starbucks on its employees in a proceeding for temporary injunctive relief under Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act. Professor Estreicher and Mr. Rawlings argue that the Second Circuit’s emphasis on the need for discovery requests to be proportional to the limited inquiry in 10(j) proceedings, as well as its recognition of employees’ confidentiality interests in union organizing activities, may influence how courts evaluate such employer requests in future 10(j) litigation, particularly if the Supreme Court adopts a more stringent standard for granting 10(j) relief in the pending Starbucks v. McKinney case.

What It Means to Be a Zealous Advocate: A Behavioral Approach

Criminal defense attorney Jon May discusses the importance of zealous advocacy in the legal profession, examining what it means to be a zealous advocate, the motivations behind lawyers’ practices, and why zealous advocacy is essential to the justice system. Mr. May argues that while zealous advocacy does not justify unethical conduct, it is a critical component of lawyers’ professional identity and obligations to their clients, and that efforts to eliminate references to zealous advocacy in ethical codes or to prioritize the “public good” over clients’ interests in legal education are misguided.

Is it Constitutional to Facilitate Exemption of Older Persons From Jury Service Based on Their Age? A California Provision Raises the Question

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar discusses how California’s Rule of Court 2.1008, which allows individuals aged 70 and older to be excused from jury service due to disability without requiring documentation, may violate the Twenty-Sixth Amendment’s prohibition on age discrimination in voting rights. Professor Amar argues that since jury service is a form of political participation akin to voting, singling out those 70 and older in a way that reduces their jury participation based on assumptions about age and disability is constitutionally problematic, just as it would be to excuse women from juries based on assumptions about their domestic responsibilities.

Justice Alito’s Modified, Limited Hangout

Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut discusses Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s refusal to recuse himself from a case involving Donald Trump’s claim of immunity related to the January 6th Capitol riot, despite flags associated with the insurrection being flown at Alito’s properties. Mr. Aftergut argues that Alito’s non-denial denials and failure to condemn the violence on January 6th raise serious questions about the appearance of impropriety and the Court’s legitimacy, suggesting that Alito should recuse himself to maintain public trust in the institution.

Harvard’s New Policy on the “Institutional Voice in the University” Gets It Right

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses Harvard University’s recent decision to stop issuing official statements on public matters that do not directly affect the university’s core function, a move that other universities are also considering or have already taken. Professor Sarat argues that while this decision is controversial, it is a step in the right direction as it allows universities to focus on their essential purpose of seeking truth through open inquiry and debate, avoids the risk of chilling debate or alienating community members, and encourages individuals on campus to stand up for their beliefs through their work and lives as citizens.

Justice Kagan’s Intriguing Concurrence in This Month’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Case

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) v. Community Financial Services Association of America, Ltd., which upheld the constitutionality of the CFPB’s funding scheme, and examines the role of “history and tradition” in the Court’s constitutional jurisprudence. Professor Amar argues that while relying on post-enactment traditions to interpret the Constitution raises complex questions, especially in the context of originalism, such traditions may be more defensible when determining the scope of individual rights as opposed to structural provisions like separation of powers and federalism.

The Day After the Trump Trial Verdict

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the potential outcomes and implications of the jury’s verdict in Donald Trump’s hush money and election interference trial in New York. Professor Sarat argues that regardless of the verdict, Trump has been more effective than his critics in shaping public opinion about the trial’s fairness, which may have significant consequences for the 2024 presidential election and beyond.

This Country’s Legal and Political Institutions Are in Trouble, and Trump Likes It That Way

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses former President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on the legal system and Congress, highlighting how his rhetoric exploits and exacerbates the American public's growing mistrust and disillusionment with these institutions. Professor Sarat argues that even if Trump is defeated in the upcoming election, the U.S. must address the underlying issues causing this vulnerability in order to restore public confidence and ensure the survival of American democracy in the face of Trumpism.

Regulating Civil Disobedience on Campus

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses how colleges and universities should handle student protests that violate campus rules, exploring whether such rule-breaking can be considered civil disobedience and what disciplinary consequences may be appropriate. Professor Dorf argues that while protesters should face consequences for rule violations, universities should consider showing some leniency for peaceful protests involving minor infractions, and that developing fair policies requires an inclusive process involving students, faculty, staff and administrators, as well as robust due process protections.

Could the Consumer Protection Finance Bureau (CFPB)’s Victory in the Supreme Court Last Week Boomerang to Disempower the Bureau and Invalidate its Regulations? Not if the Case is Read Carefully and Properly: A Response to Professor Hal Scott’s Wall Street Journal Op-Ed

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar discusses a recent Supreme Court decision holding that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) funding mechanism, which draws money from the Federal Reserve System rather than yearly congressional appropriations, does not violate the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause. Professor Amar argues against the view expressed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that this ruling could turn into a “stunning defeat” for the CFPB due to the Fed’s recent operating deficits, asserting that the Court’s decision merely rejects the Appropriations Clause as a basis to challenge the CFPB’s funding and does not affirmatively rely on that Clause to justify the Bureau’s operations.

Progressives Need to Take the Gloves Off and Play Hardball with Our Rogue Supreme Court

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the increasingly partisan and unethical behavior of the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, providing examples of actions by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas that he argues undermine public trust in the institution. Professor Sarat contends that progressives in Congress need to take more aggressive action, beyond speeches and task forces, to hold the Court accountable and rein in rogue behavior, suggesting they use their oversight powers to subpoena justices and potentially reduce the Court’s budget.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor of Law and Former Dean at the University of Illinois College of Law on the Urbana-Champaign campus.... more

Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall Law School and the University of Toronto Law school. He also holds the James J. Freeland Eminent... more

John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Before becoming White House counsel at age thirty-one, he was the chief minority counsel to the... more

Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has written hundreds of popular essays, dozens of scholarly articles, and six books on constitutional... more

Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law and Director of the Center of Labor and Employment Law and Institute of Judicial Administration at New York University School of Law. He... more

Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Boyd School of Law. Prof. Griffin, who teaches constitutional law and bioethics, is known for... more

Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of Law and is currently serving as the Herman Phleger Visiting Professor at Stanford Law School. ... more

Marci A. Hamilton

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA, a 501(c)(3)... more

Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in Rasul v. Bush (2004), involving detentions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, and in Geren v. Omar... more

Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College.Professor Sarat founded both Amherst College’s Department of Law,... more

Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and Professor of Constitutional Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School, where he has taught since 1968. Born in... more

Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois, Wexler was a Professor of Law at Florida State University,... more