Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

Out in the Open: The Alt-Right Learns About Privacy in the Modern World


Joanna L. Grossman, SMU Dedman School of Law professor, and Lawrence M. Friedman, a Stanford Law professor, comment on the decreased privacy of the modern world, as recently illustrated by the very public identification of some of the alt-right demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, from photos and videos of the rally. Grossman and Friedman point out that technology is making anonymity a thing of the past and that only affirmative legislative changes, such as recognition of a “right to be forgotten,” can alter that course.

Free Speech Issues Raised by Internet Companies Denying Service to Neo-Nazi Sites


Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf uses the refusal of private internet domain registrars to do business with neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer to illustrate the need for a change in the law. Dorf acknowledges that in the case of The Daily Stormer, no rights were violated, and the companies acted within their terms of service. However, Dorf argues that Congress should impose obligations to respect freedom of speech on companies that provide essential internet services to avoid the future possibility that such private companies stifle speech of worthy organizations and legitimate causes.

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


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.

Why One Can Support Affirmative Action but Oppose Favoring Whites Over Asians When Administering It


Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the recent indications that the Trump Justice Department will investigate and possibly sue colleges and universities that make use of race-based affirmative action. Without expressing views as to the merits of pending lawsuits, Amar explains how one can simultaneously support race-based affirmative action and oppose the so-called “Asian penalty”—that is, systematically requiring Asian American applicants to have higher scores than white applicants.

What Do Colleges Have to Fear From Trump Justice Department’s Anti-Affirmative Action Policy?


Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf highlights some potentially dangerous consequences of the Justice Department’s recent indication that it would be investigating and suing colleges and universities that practice affirmative action. Dorf points out that the executive branch holds significant power over both public and private universities and colleges, and that it could exercise that power to induce significant changes in admissions policies.

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


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.

Unsolicited Opinion: The Department of Justice Files Brief Urging Court to Block Rights for LGBT Employees


SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Anthony Michael Kreis comment on a brief recently filed by the U.S. Department of Justice arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect against sexual orientation discrimination. Grossman and Kreis point out the flaws in the DOJ’s arguments and explain the dangerous consequences its position will have if it prevails.

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


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.

Would a Trump Self-Pardon Precipitate a Constitutional Crisis?


Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that if President Trump were to pardon himself, that action itself would not cause a constitutional crisis, but other actions Trump has already taken have already placed us far along a road to a constitutional crisis. Dorf defines a constitutional crisis in terms of three types first articulated by Sanford Levinson and Jack Balkin in a 2009 law review article, and Dorf proposes a fourth type characterized by defiance of unwritten norms that are not themselves legal obligations but that undergird the constitutional system as a whole.

So When Will Religious Organizations Choose Not to Discriminate?


Leading church-state scholar Marci A. Hamilton comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in which it held that a female principal of a Catholic school has no legal recourse when a priest engages in gender discrimination that would be actionable in any other setting. Hamilton explains that this is a product of the misguided ministerial exception, which is part of a larger, more troubling social pattern of religious entities demanding a right to discriminate and harm others.

Some Aspects of the Matal v. Tam Trademark Case That Would Have Benefitted from More Explanation


Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Matal v. Tam, in which the Court struck down as unconstitutional part of the federal trademark registration statute that prohibits registration of disparaging marks. Amar points out that the Court’s decision in Matal is difficult to square with its reasoning and holding in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Soldiers, a case from two years ago in which the Court upheld Texas’s refusal to approve a specialty license plate design that made extensive use of the Confederate flag image.

Can a Presidential Candidate Get Away With Defamatory Lying?


Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf analyzes the arguments made by Donald Trump’s lawyers in defending against Summer Zervos’s defamation suit against him, specifically the argument that Trump’s comments were mere “hyperbole” and “fiery rhetoric,” which, in the context of a presidential campaign, do not amount to defamation under state law. Dorf argues that existing law already offers politicians some protections against frivolous lawsuits, and what Trump’s lawyers are asking for is essentially a license for a candidate to lie about anyone and anything so long as the controversy has some connection to politics.

Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer at the Supreme Court: Be Careful What They Wish For


Marci A. Hamilton, a leading church/state scholar and Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, which Hamilton argues reflects a common-sense application of existing jurisprudence on the Free Exercise Clause. Hamilton laments that legislators are not acting with the same level of common sense as they develop and interpret dangerous Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

Independence Day: The Texas Supreme Court Refuses to Hold That the Federal Constitutional Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Has Full Force in Texas


SMU Dedman School of Law professors Joanna L. Grossman and Dale Carpenter comment on a recent decision by the Texas Supreme Court in which it refuses to give effect to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. Grossman and Carpenter explain why the Texas court’s decision was clearly wrong and why factors other than merits might have (though they should not have) affected the ruling in that case.

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


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.

Summarily Reversed: Arkansas’s Attempt to Flout Obergefell v. Hodges Is Blocked


SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent summary reversal of the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling that upheld that state’s attempt to avoid the marriage equality decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Grossman describes the ways in which some states, such as Arkansas in this case, have tried to avoid, subvert, or limit Obergefell’s holding, and she discusses the Supreme Court’s simple yet clear response, as well as the significance of Justice Gorsuch’s dissent from the per curiam opinion.

Trump’s Travel Ban Heads to the Supreme Court


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 Considers Whether to Grant Privacy to Cell Tower Location Records


Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the reasoning behind an appeals court's allowing law enforcement to acquire, without a warrant or probable cause, cell phone records that include a user’s approximate location over a period of several months. Colb expresses relief that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider the issue so that we can know whether, by using a cell phone, we are thereby exposing our location to the police (and not just to our wireless service providers).

Policing Sexism at the Border: The Supreme Court’s Decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana


SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana, in which the Court held unconstitutional a federal law imposing different physical presence requirements on mothers as compared to fathers. Grossman argues that the law at issue epitomized sex discrimination and was rooted in archaic generalizations about parents based on gender.

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 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 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 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

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, Dale E. Fowler School of Law. Before that, he was University Profe... 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