Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

Vouchers, Charters and Public School Debt: Not Just Different Education Policy Priorities

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Guest columnist and former U.S. Congressman Brad Miller argues that the Trump administration’s plans to expand charter schools and provide vouchers for religious and other private schools may violate the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Miller points out that by paying for charters out of traditional public schools’ funds, states have de-prioritized their obligations to the purchasers of public school bonds in violation of the Contract Clause.

The Children Be Damned . . .

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Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, describes the numerous child-endangering bills that are being proposed in various states across the nation. Hamilton argues that we as a society need to create a culture that works for the best interest of all children.

Does the Juror Deliberation “Privilege” Work? Questioning the Supreme Court’s Assumptions

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a juror’s use of racial stereotypes to vote for conviction may be used to invalidate the verdict, despite evidentiary rules that otherwise prohibit the use of juror testimony to challenge a verdict. Colb argues that the Supreme Court should have either extended the Sixth Amendment exception to cover other types of juror misconduct, or repealed the rule that prohibits the use of post-verdict juror testimony to impeach a verdict.

How to Drain the Swamp? Use a Flashlight

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Chapman University Fowler School of Law professor Ronald D. Rotunda calls for the executive branch to shine a light into some areas of government that have been obscured in the past eight years, including the conduct of former IRS officer Lois Lerner, Operation Fast and Furious, and investigations by the offices of the inspectors general. Rotunda argues that the release of documents related to these and other issues will help us know if we should be worried about our government.

The Complexities of a “Motive” Analysis in Challenging President Trump’s Executive Order Regarding Entry to the United States

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein explain the complexities behind analyzing the motive underlying legislation and executive orders. Specifically, Amar and Brownstein highlight the difficulty in courts’ using perceived motive to strike down President Trump’s executive order regarding entry to the United States.

Sympathy for the Comfortable: The New Conservative Theory of Compassion

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains in plain English what Mick Mulvaney meant when he attempted to justify President Trump’s budget proposal that would cut programs that help America’s most vulnerable, such as Meals on Wheels and subsidized school lunches for poor children. As Buchanan explains, Mulvaney’s explanation is based on a false notion that better-off people gain as much utility from each dollar as worse-off people receive from the same amount.

The Educational Function of Kabuki Confirmation Hearings

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the value of the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, despite the tradition in such hearings of the nominee evading answering questions about the most divisive legal issues of the day. Dorf argues that the Gorsuch hearing provides a unique opportunity for bipartisan repudiation of President Trump’s irresponsible attacks on the judiciary.

The Child Sex Abuse Scandals Are All the Same and They Demand the Government to Act

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Marci Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania and the CEO of CHILD USA, calls attention to the patterns of child sex abuse that indicate it is a symptom of a larger society-wide problem. To address this problem at its root, Hamilton proposes a law that would mandate certain principles and practices for every organization involved in any way with children.

An Open Letter to the American People on the Dangers of Taking a President at His Word

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Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, pens an open letter to the American people warning of the dangers of trusting any president without questioning. Hamilton explains that the framers of the Constitution envisioned that those in power could not be trusted and for that reason empowered the press to check those with power. Hamilton argues that the Trump Administration is encouraging the American people to abandon this part of the social contract.

How Race Changes Things: The Supreme Court’s Decision in Buck v. Davis

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb examines the how ineffective assistance of counsel and equal protection interact in cases involving race to produce results different from what might result from similar cases not involving race. Specifically, Colb looks at whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s conclusion of ineffective assistance of counsel in Buck v. Davis would have been different if the issue of race had not been involved.

Ambitious Proposals in the States Testing Constitutional Limits of Legislative Power to Interpret the Constitution

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Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses several legislative proposals in various states that purport to give state legislatures power to interpret and implement the federal Constitution notwithstanding judicial rulings interpreting the same. Amar explains some of the key differences between the different proposals and why some are likely to pass constitutional muster while others are not.

Should Federalism Play a Role in the Interpretation of Civil Rights Laws?

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Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf argues that in some contexts, consideration of states’ rights is relevant to the interpretation of federal statutes, but in other contexts—including the federal lawsuit over a transgender boy’s access to a boys’ restroom at school—principles of federalism are outweighed by other considerations. Dorf provides three examples of instances where federalism should play a role in the interpretation of federal statutes, and he explains why the transgender bathroom case differs from those instances.

An Oklahoma Bill Would Require a Father’s Consent for Abortion

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a bill currently under consideration by the Oklahoma legislature that would require a woman who wants to have an abortion to first obtain the written consent of the father of the pregnancy. Colb argues that not only is the bill plainly unconstitutional, but it is also outright misogynistic.

Another Senseless Act of Destruction: The Trump Administration Undermines Protections for Transgender Students

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SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna Grossman argues that the decision by the Trump Administration to roll back protections for transgender students is mean-spirited and serves no legitimate purpose. Grossman briefly describes the history of the recognition of transgender rights under federal statutes and explains why protections for transgender students make far greater legal sense than denying those protections.

Visas: The Historical and Legal Precedent

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Chapman University, Fowler School of Law, professor Ronald D. Rotunda explains the legal precedent behind the executive’s power to restrict visas for non-U.S. citizens to enter the United States. Rotunda points out that the recent opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit fails to mention almost any of the precedential cases on point when it struck down President Trump’s executive order limiting immigration.

What Are We to Make of the First Month of the New Trump Administration in Constitutional Perspective?

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University of Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar provides answers to some common questions about the Trump Administration from a constitutional perspective. Specifically, Amar addresses what is a constitutional crisis and whether we are approaching one, what the worst-case constitutional scenario might look like, how state and local governments can resist federal government overreach, to what extent executive criticism of the judiciary has a chilling effect, and what topics are fair game in the confirmation hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch.

The Real Religious Liberty Deficits Right in Front of Us

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Marci Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania and leading church/state scholar, outlines what the United States must do to restore true religious liberty under the First Amendment, rather than go down the path of extreme religious liberty supported by right-wing Christian lobbyists. Hamilton argues that President Trump needs to remove Steve Bannon, unhinge himself from the extreme religious right, and open his eyes to the plain discrimination directly in front of him.

In for a Pence: How Congress Can Smooth the Path for Trump’s Removal via the 25th Amendment

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Guest columnist Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law and attorney with an international business practice, explains how Congress might be able to use the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump. Falvy explains the difficulties in involuntarily removing a president under the 25th Amendment and describes how Congress might get around these difficulties.

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