Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

When Is an LGBTQ Rights Case Not About LGBTQ Rights? When It’s the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

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Marci A. Hamilton— 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 Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania—comments on the recent decision by the US Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Hamilton explains the scope and limitations of the Court’s decision and notes the significance of its narrow holding in that case.

A Guided Tour Through the United States v. California Lawsuit Challenging Some of California’s “Sanctuary” Policies

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the lawsuit filed by the Trump administration against California over its so-called sanctuary policies. Amar explains why the federal government is likely to prevail on one claim, to lose on another claim, and to lose in part on the third claim. Amar laments that both sides seem to assert extreme positions that are not entirely tenable.

Far-Reaching Implications of a Narrow Supreme Court Ruling on Tribal Sovereign Immunity

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren, but more specifically the implications of Chief Justice Roberts’s concurrence in that case. Dorf argues that the Chief Justice’s concurrence, taken to its logical conclusion, broadly undermines the basis for much of the Court’s case law involving the sovereign immunity of US states.

No, Oversight Power Does Not Let Congress Ride Shotgun in Criminal Investigations

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Guest columnist and former US Congressman Brad Miller explains why Congress may not intrude on an open criminal investigation, especially not to help political allies who are likely targets. In support, Miller points not only to traditional democratic norms, but also to unequivocal jurisprudence on the limits of congressional oversight.

The Perceived Threat of Trans Identity

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb explores the reasons behind some people’s refusal to refer to trans men as men and trans women as women. Colb describes some of the concrete harms caused by such refusal, such as policies sending trans women to prisons for the wrong gender—a policy Colb argues violates the Eighth Amendment under the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence.

The Good of the Country, or the Good of the Agency? Some Final Reflections on Gina Haspel

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Cornell University law professor Joe Margulies comments on the confirmation hearing of Gina Haspel for director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Margulies initially expressed reservations about Haspel, but he explains her strengths and weaknesses and draws the important distinction between someone who is good for the Agency and someone who is good for the country.

Rape, Racism, Free Speech, and Fraternities

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb examines two (real, but slightly altered) conversations in order to explore the thoughts and feelings that might affect the weight we give to principles that support our positions, while disregarding the same principles when they run contrary to our positions. Colb describes the interrelatedness of conversations that arise regarding rape, racism, and free speech, specifically in the context of college fraternities, but applicable to many other situations.

Understanding Free Speech Controversies on College Campuses: A Summary of a Very Helpful Conversation Between Two Leading Analysts—Erwin Chemerinsky and Geof Stone

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar relates insights on campus free speech principles that came up during a recent discussion with renowned constitutional commentators Erwin Chemerinsky and Geof Stone. Among the insights are some possible explanations for why many college students today seem opposed to allowing offensive speech on campus, the different perspectives on the proper role of university officials regarding controversial guest speakers, and the question of when the costs of providing security for controversial speaker events justifies the cancellation or termination of the event.

Appeals Court Rejects PETA’s “Monkey Selfie” Case

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent Ninth Circuit decision rejecting an effort by PETA to bring a copyright lawsuit on behalf of Naruto, a crested macaque. Dorf points out that while the result in that case is unsurprising, the court’s reasoning raises important questions about the role of lawsuits and law more generally in furthering the interests of nonhuman animals.

The Last Roar of the ‘Liberal Lion’: Judge Stephen Reinhardt Reverses Ruling That Would Have Allowed Employers to Justify Women’s Lower Wages by Prior Salaries

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SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman describes the last ruling by the late Judge Stephen Reinhardt, in which Reinhardt, writing for the Ninth Circuit en banc, reversed an interpretation of the Equal Pay Act that allowed employeers to justify paying female employees less than their male counterparts based on salary history. Grossman explains why the ruling is a correct interpretation of the Equal Pay Act and notes that the decision underscores Judge Reinhardt’s reputation as a staunch defender of equality and justice.

What California Voters Should Focus on When Voting on Tim Draper’s “CAL 3” Initiative

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on Tim Draper’s proposal to divide California into three separate state. Amar describes what the proposal would do and provides three levels of hurdles that will (and Amar argues should) make the proposal a difficult sell, particularly among rational Democrats, who make up the majority of California voters.

Judicial Nominee Refuses to Say Whether Brown v. Board Was Rightly Decided

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on an exchange during the confirmation hearing of Wendy Vitter, whom President Trump has nominated for a federal district court judgeship, in which Vitter declined to answer whether she thought Brown v. Board of Education was rightly decided. Dorf points out that Vitter’s refusal to answer that question may have been an attempt to avoid further scrutiny about her views about abortion but also served to inadvertently acknowledge what conservatives routinely deny—that a judge’s “personal, religious, and political” views necessarily interact with the legal materials.

The Only Unpardonable Offense

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies expands upon a prior column in which he argued that all of President Donald Trump’s attacks thus far on Special Counsel Mueller are not actually a threat to the rule of law. Margulies considers two other scenarios: delegating the task of firing the special counsel, which Margulies argues does threaten the rule of law, and pardoning those convicted by the special counsel, which he argues does not.

Fly Away: Why the New York City Human Rights Commission is Right to Investigate The Wing, a Private Club and Workspace that is Just for Women

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SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman considers whether New York’s all-female private social club, The Wing, violates that state’s public accommodations law. Grossman reviews the relevant case law and concludes that The Wing will likely have difficulty arguing that should be exempt from the public accommodations law under First Amendment or public policy grounds.

The EEOC and the #MeToo Era: Is the Budget Increase Enough?

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Marci A. Hamilton—a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and the CEO and Academic Director of CHILD USA—considers recent news of the EEOC’s budget increase for fiscal year 2018. Hamilton notes that this appears to be a win for the EEOC and the #MeToo movement at first glance. Nevertheless, Hamilton explains that the increasing public encouragement for victims of sexual misconduct to come forward does not negate the unwillingness of those in power to effect change within the legal system for these victims to have a real chance at justice.

The War Over Women’s Health: The Supreme Court Considers Validity of California Law Mandating that Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers Disclose if They Are Not Licensed

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SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the recent oral argument in NIFLA v. Becerra, in which so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers challenge California’s Reproductive FACT Act as violating their First Amendment right to free speech by requiring posted information about medical licensure and abortion. Grossman points out that Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor seemed to believe that if California’s FACT Act violates the First Amendment, then so too would laws in other states requiring that doctors engage in anti-abortion (or abortion-deterrent) speech.

Is the Winner-Take-All Method States Use to Select Presidential Electors Legally Vulnerable?

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In this second of a two-part series of columns, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar evaluates the major constitutional and statutory voting rights claims asserted in the federal challenge to Texas’s use of the so-called Winner-Take-All approach to selecting the state’s representatives to the Electoral College. Amar explains why he finds both types of arguments set forth in the complaint largely unpersuasive.

Does the Constitution Permit a State to Abolish Marriage?

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether, in protest of the Supreme Court’s recognition of the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, states can “get out of the marriage business” altogether. Dorf explains that abolishing marriage for everyone likely poses no equal protection issues, and points out some interesting and unique characteristics about marriage as a fundamental right.

Lessons From the Gina Haspel Imbroglio

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies explains why we should withhold judgment about President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel. Margulies points out that, notwithstanding what we do know about Haspel’s role in facilitating torture at CIA black sites, there is much information we still do not yet know that could inform our assessment of her. He calls upon both the Left and the Right to reduce knee-jerk reactions and instead seek to make careful assessments based on complete information and facts.

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 on the Urbana-Champaign campus. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois i... 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 the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in constitutional criminal procedure, evidence, and animal rights. She has published articles in a variet... 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 six books on constitutional law... 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 the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvani... 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

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, whose... more