Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

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

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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

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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

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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.

The Troublingly Widening Gyre of Complicity Claims

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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

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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?

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Can Government Prevent Hostile Listeners from “Shouting Down” Controversial Speakers?

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein propose and analyze a law to prevent hostile listeners from “shouting down” controversial speakers that, arguably, would pass constitutional muster. Amar and Brownstein do not fully agree on which standard of review should apply to the regulation they propose, but they do agree that the mere fact that a general law is applied to conventionally expressive conduct does not always justify increasing the standard of review applied to it.

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.

Concern About DeVos’s Rescission of Obama Policy on Campus Rape

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rescind the Obama-era Title IX guidance on campus sexual assault because it allegedly denies due process to students accused of rape. While acknowledging specific instances where accused students have been treated poorly, Colb argues that the existing guidelines are eminently sensible and defensible and that rescinding them rather than editing or modifying them goes well beyond what is necessary to address concerns for accused students. Colb focuses on two commonly attacked features of campus policy—the preponderance of the evidence standard and the affirmative consent requirement—and explains why they are good policy.

How First Amendment Speech Doctrine Ought to Be Created and Applied in the Colorado Baker/Gay Wedding Dispute at the Supreme Court

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Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein point out that the US Supreme Court has no comprehensive doctrine on compelled speech under the First Amendment, especially as compared to its very nuanced doctrine on suppression of speech. Amar and Brownstein identify core elements that should comprise a comprehensive doctrine and call upon the Supreme Court to adopt similar guidelines when it decides an upcoming case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a baker challenges a Colorado public accommodations law on First Amendment grounds, citing compelled speech. Without taking a position on how this dispute should be resolved as a matter of social policy, Amar and Brownstein argue that the doctrinal framework they describe does not support rigorous review in this case.

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.

Got Milk? Eleventh Circuit Holds That Discrimination Because of Employee’s Breastfeeding is Unlawful Discrimination

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SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent decision in which the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recognized that discrimination because of an employee’s breastfeeding constitutes illegal pregnancy discrimination. Grossman explains the facts leading up to the case and explains why the court found that the employer, the Tuscaloosa Police Department, had violated the employee’s rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

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.

Supreme Court of India Protects a Right to Privacy

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the Supreme Court of India in which that court ruled that the Constitution of India protects a right of privacy. Dorf explains the significance of the decision not only for the largest democracy in the world, but also for people in other constitutional democracies, including the United States.

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.

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