Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

Facebook Messenger Kids—Good for Whom?

Updated:

University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on Facebook’s recently announced messenger app for kids. Ramasastry describes the key features of Facebook’s new program and explores the privacy and safety concerns that arise with this business model. She calls upon policymakers or advocacy groups to weigh in, as well, anticipating that this will not be the only business model aimed at kids in this manner.

Liberty and Equality Sometimes Require Tragic Choices, Just Not in Masterpiece Cakeshop

Updated:

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before the US Supreme Court—in which the Court will decide whether a baker may refuse to serve a gay couple based on his religious beliefs—does not present a difficult choice between liberty and equality. Rather, Dorf points out, the baker’s free speech claim in this case should be relatively easy to reject because a cake without an articulate message on it does not constitute the “speech” of the person who made it.

Why Government?

Updated:

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies points out that “the market” did not create any of the benefits to which most of us have come to feel entitled to—including workers’ compensation, mortgage interest deductions, veterans’ benefits, non-discrimination laws, and many more. Rather, the federal government created these things, and the government continues to play a critical and beneficial role in everyone’s lives, despite widespread sentiment that “government is bad.” Margulies looks specifically to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which is the primary reason affordable housing exists, albeit in lesser numbers than is currently needed, and points out that this and other critical services are at risk in the GOP tax bill.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop Oral Argument and the Fatal Flaw in the Bakers’ Free Speech Argument

Updated:

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, reacts to the oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm’n, in which the Supreme Court will decide whether a Colorado baker may refuse to serve a same-sex couple on the basis that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Hamilton argues that lawyer for the baker, as well as the solicitor general arguing in support of the baker’s position in the case, took the nonsensical position that the cake serves as the baker’s speech in the couple’s private ceremony. Hamilton points out that the cake is actually the couple’s expression to each other and to those present at the ceremony, just as any other product is simply a product imbued only with the meaning intended by its purchaser.

Why “Believing Women” Has Been a Challenging Task

Updated:

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why it is so difficult for society as a whole to believe women’s accounts of sexual assault and harassment. Colb argues that the first step in developing solutions is for society, and particularly men, to admit that many (if not all) of these claims are true, and once that happens, then one has to either say that such behavior is acceptable or unambiguously condemn the behavior. Assuming that one rightfully condemns the behavior, Colb points out that the next step is to investigate the claims and impose whatever penalties are appropriate.

Texas Strikes Out Again: Federal Court Halts Enforcement of Yet Another Unconstitutional Anti-Abortion Law

Updated:

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by a federal court in Texas permanently enjoining the State of Texas from enforcing an unconstitutional anti-abortion law. Grossman provides a brief background of both Texas and the law at issue and explains why the federal court struck it down. Grossman points out that the clear weight of Supreme Court jurisprudence supports the district court’s reasoning and decision.

A Tax Deduction for Unborn Children: Should Pro-Choice Advocates Have Worried?

Updated:

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers a provision of the proposed statute in the House version of the latest tax reform bill that would have allowed expectant parents to take a tax deduction on college fund investments for their offspring. Colb notes the negative response to this provision among pro-choice advocates as a result of how the provision’s language equates a fetus with a child. While acknowledging the worry among abortion rights proponents that such wording might provide a legal foundation for future attempts to restrict women’s rights to terminate their pregnancies, Colb counters this concern by explaining why it is unlikely that the language in the tax bill would have any effect on the legal status of abortion.

A Dozen (or so) Thoughts on Senate Expulsion (With Special Reference to the Roy Moore Affair)

Updated:

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers some thoughts on the divisive ongoing conversation about the possibility of the Senate voting to expel Senate candidate Roy Moore from Alabama, if he should win next month’s special election. Amar looks at the history of the practice of Senate expulsion, as well as some of the uncertainties that surround it.

Do Trump’s Attacks on CNN Render Unconstitutional the Justice Department’s Effort to Block AT&T’s Acquisition of Time Warner?

Updated:

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers how President Trump’s attacks on CNN affect the Justice Department’s efforts to block AT&T’s proposed purchase of Time Warner (by requiring AT&T to sell off Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN, or DirecTV). As Dorf points out, illicit intent can taint policies that without such intent would pass constitutional muster. Dorf explains why AT&T likely can meet the threshold of making a “credible showing of different treatment of similarly situated persons” to advance allegations of selective prosecution based on free speech.

The Russian Meddling in the 2016 Election: The Internet Meets the Democratic System

Updated:

Professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Marci A. Hamilton calls upon social media giants, particularly Facebook, to act morally and implement safeguards to protect the democratic process, or else be regulated by Congress. Hamilton points out that Facebook has amassed more data about individual people than any other company in the world, and it should shoulder the burden of handling that data responsibly rather than for the pure purpose of profit.

The Changing Scope of the Freedom of Expression in the United States and Brazil

Updated:

Guest columnists Igor De Lazari and Antonio Sepulveda, and Justia editor David S. Kemp compare and contrast the evolving recognition of the rights of LGB individuals in the United States and Brazil. The authors point to several parallel decisions by the high court of each nation, but they also point to ways in which the jurisprudence of the two countries might diverge—specifically when religious beliefs appear to conflict with the recognition of the rights of gays and lesbians.

Reflections on Insurrections

Updated:

George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan considers the irony of the (hopefully remote) possibility that people might resort to violence to keep President Trump in power. Buchanan explains the “insurrectionist view” of the Second Amendment, which has never been credited by the Supreme Court, but which holds that the founders included the gun-related amendment in the Bill of Rights to prevent the federal government from running roughshod over the people. Buchanan points out the circular logic that under the insurrectionist view, the reason people need guns is to prevent the government from taking their guns.

The Need for Clearer Understanding of the Basic Federalism Doctrines Concerning Sanctuary Cities and Other Federal-State Flashpoints

Updated:

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains the federalism doctrines implicated by Attorney General Sessions’ attempt to deny funding to sanctuary jurisdictions. Amar points to lower court decisions that reflect a misunderstanding of the doctrines and calls upon federal courts and their law clerks to better understand and apply not just the nuanced technical details of various specific doctrines, but the overall federalism big picture as well.

The Troublingly Widening Gyre of Complicity Claims

Updated:

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf describes a principle most famously articulated by Thomas Jefferson, under which there should be a right to avoid providing financial support for causes one strongly opposes. Dorf argues that the Jeffersonian principle has lately run amok. He points out that the government’s argument against allowing a seventeen-year-old undocumented immigrant in federal custody to obtain a privately funded abortion is but one example of the government’s too-broad definition of “facilitation” of acts with which it disagrees. Dorf argues that adoption of such a position would convert every objectionable private exercise of rights into government participation.

The Handmaid’s Tale—Junior Version

Updated:

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman analogizes a situation in the present United States to the dystopic circumstances of The Handmaid’s Tale. In each, Grossman points out that men have taken upon themselves the right and responsibility to mandate what women may (and must) do during pregnancy, despite what are indisputably their constitutional rights.

What Happens When Very Few People Own Quite a Few Guns?

Updated:

George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan considers the implications of the fact that a very small number of Americans own a very large percentage of the privately owned guns in the United States. Specifically, he considers whether the already-enormous number of guns owned by Americans means that we are doomed to live with gun violence forever, no matter what a future Congress might do, and whether the concentration of guns in the hands of Donald Trump’s supporters raises any special concerns about attempts to impeach the president.

Can Congress Ban Bump Stocks?

Updated:

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why, if Congress wants to ban or further regulated the sale of “bump stocks,” it should act quickly or risk missing the window in which regulation is possible. Dorf points out that the test the Supreme Court uses for whether weapons count as “arms” protected by the Second Amendment is whether they are in “common use,” not whether they are “dangerous and unusual weapons.” Dorf argues that so long as bump stocks remain legal, people can accumulate them, and if enough people do that before they are banned, there could be so many in circulation as to qualify as in common use, thereby falling within the scope of Second Amendment protection.

The Trump Administration Mimics Mississippi on Civil Rights

Updated:

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, describes how Mississippi and President Trump (with the help of Jeff Sessions) are bent on demeaning and disempowering LGBT individuals in every way possible. Hamilton points to the passage of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 as the starting point for this movement, despite the law’s being struck down as unconstitutional in 1997.

The US Supreme Court Considers the Scope of the Automobile Exception

Updated:

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the US Supreme Court recently agreed to hear regarding the scope of the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. Colb explains the facts leading up to the controversy, the arguments on both sides, and the unusual nature of the case. Colb points out that the Court was likely motivated to hear the case to resolve a question the case does not even squarely present, namely whether the presence of a car in a driveway is a reason not to apply the automobile exception.

Sex, Lies, and Trump’s Rollback of the Contraceptive Mandate

Updated:

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the recent change in policy announced by the Trump administration rolling back the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, allowing employers with religious or moral objections to exempt themselves. Grossman describes the history of access to contraception in the United States and the measures Trump has taken that have the purpose or effect of restricting access to contraception.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois, Amar served as the Senior Assoc... more

Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington University. He teaches tax law and tax policy, and he has taught contract law, law and economics, and... more

Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in constitutional criminal procedure, evidence, and animal rights. She has published a... 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 Judiciar... 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 four books on constitutional la... more

Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of Law.  She is an expert in sex discrimination law. Her most recent book,  more

Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Practice and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the... more

David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from Rice University and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall)... more

Joseph Margulies

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

Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, where she also directs the graduate program on Sustainable International Developmen... more

Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at Chapman University, Fowler School of Law. He joined the faculty in 2008. Before that, he was Univ... more