Analysis and Commentary on Government

Why Government?

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

What’s Different—And What Isn’t—About Travel Ban 3.0

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf describes some of the key similarities and differences between the most recent iteration of President Trump’s ban on entry to the US by certain foreign nationals (“Travel Ban 3.0”) and earlier versions, and considers whether these differences will affect the determination of the policy’s legality. Although the Supreme Court might not ultimately be the court that answers the question, Dorf points out that we may have an answer before too long.

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

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John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, praises Senator Al Franken’s newest book, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. Without giving spoilers, Dean shares a few reasons he recommends the book, in which Franken provides unique insight into our political system and demonstrates his capacity for doing the serious work of the US Senate and occasionally injecting it with appropriate touches of comedy.

Political Impediments to Carving California into Three States, and Why Tim Draper Should Support the NPV Plan for Presidential Elections

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar continues his discussion of the proposal by Silicon Valley billionaire investor Tim Draper to break up California into three separate states. Amar describes several political obstacles to Draper’s proposal and explains how implementation of the National Popular Vote plan could actually help Draper achieve his goal of dividing the state.

A Republican Reverie: If Only Clinton Had Won!

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan argues that a Clinton victory in 2016 would have been better for Republicans than Trump has been. Buchanan explains why Republican obstructionism, if carried into a Clinton presidency, would have meant longer-term wins for Republicans across multiple branches of government.

Don’t Shred the Evidence

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments critically on the decision by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to destroy certain records regarding detainees held in ICE custody. Margulies argues that the information ICE seeks to destroy can be helpful in assessing the conditions, staffing, supervision, and practices in various facilities, for the purpose of improving the worst ones and learning from the ones with the best practices.

Indicting the President: President Clinton’s Justice Department Says No

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Chapman University Fowler School of Law professor Ronald D. Rotunda explains his legal conclusion in the opinion letter he authored for Ken Star regarding the ability of a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president. Rotunda points out that the key difference between then and now is the presence of a special prosecutor statute protecting independent counsel from removal.

Reason in the Time of Trump’s Transgender Tweet: The Military Benefits of Fortifying Pro-Dignity and Anti-Discrimination Norms

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Illinois Law professor Lesley Wexler explains why the U.S. military would benefit from strengthening its pro-dignity and anti-discrimination norms, rather than implementing divisive discriminatory policies such as President Trump’s recent tweet regarding transgender service members. Wexler points to concrete ways inclusivity fortifies the military and calls upon leadership to embrace inclusive policies.

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

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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.

A Summary and Analysis of the Nixon Tapes Case That Still Governs Important Aspects of “Executive Privilege” Today

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains the U.S. Supreme Court’s seminal decision in United States v. Nixon and explains how it might affect the Trump administration in light of various ongoing investigations. Amar provides a brief summary of the Court’s holding in that case, calls attention to some weaknesses in its reasoning, and anticipates what issues might present themselves again.

Trump’s Travel Ban Heads to the Supreme Court

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses possible implications and outcomes of the Supreme Court’s recent announcement that it will review the appeals court decisions invalidating President Trump’s travel ban executive order. Dorf explains the issue of mootness and also explains how one might predict how the Court will rule on the merits of the case.

Supreme Court Rules That Citizenship Must Be Equally Heritable Through Fathers and Mothers

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the heritability of citizenship and explains why the decision might have implications for other immigration issues, such as the “Muslim ban” executive order. Dorf argues that the precedents the Court had to distinguish to reach its conclusion might give some insight into whether and how it might defer to other political branches on immigration issues.

A Primer on Impeachment (With Special Attention to the Recent Allegations of Interference by President Trump in the Flynn/Russia Investigation)

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains a few basics about the presidential impeachment process. Amar points out that impeachable conduct does not need to violate criminal statutes, that presidential participation in pending investigations isn’t necessarily wrong (but can be), and that not all “high crimes and misdemeanors” must lead to impeachment.

Mr. No-Government President Discovers the Government

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Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, describes how the separation of powers built into U.S. democracy is working as it should to prevent abuses of power by, at this time, the executive. Hamilton points out that federalism—the balance of power between state and federal government—also plays a significant role in curbing abuses of power.

Another New Federalism Flashpoint: State and Local Laws Targeting Entities that Assist in “Building the Wall”

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on recent actions by state and local governments to oppose federal policies, such as the immigration and the wall along the U.S.–Mexico border. Amar argues that these attempts likely run contrary to the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution by attempting to interfere with the execution of federal policy.

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