Michael C. Dorf

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 law and related subjects, including, most recently, The Oxford Introductions to U.S. Law: Constitutional Law. Professor Dorf blogs at Dorf on Law.

Columns by Michael C. Dorf

What Employment Discrimination Law Teaches About the Comey Firing

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on President Trump’s decision Tuesday night to fire FBI Director James Comey. Though Title VII obviously does not apply to Trump’s action, Dorf analogizes to the framework used in Title VII employment discrimination contexts to demonstrate that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests Trump’s asserted grounds for firing Comey were pretextual.

The Educational Function of Kabuki Confirmation Hearings

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.

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

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.

Did Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Talk Permanently Taint His Immigration Policy?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether President Trump’s new executive order on immigration, anticipated to be issued this week, will fare better than Executive Order 13769, which temporarily banned nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries and all refugees from entering the United States. Dorf discusses Trump’s past public statements advocating for a Muslim ban during his presidential campaign and applies the factors courts may use in evaluating whether those statements can be considered evidence of Trump’s motives for his actions as president, should the constitutionality of his executive order be challenged in court again.

Judge Gorsuch’s Misguided Quest to End Judicial Deference to Administrative Agencies

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the distinctive position taken by Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with respect to the so-called Chevron doctrine, under which courts defer to reasonable agency interpretations of ambiguous federal statutes. Dorf explains why Judge Gorsuch’s quest to end judicial deference to agencies not only contrasts with Justice Scalia’s position on the issue, but it is also erroneous and based on a misconception of how Chevron works.

Supreme Court to Consider When a Criminal Defendant Must Pay With His Life for His Lawyer’s Error

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that presents the issue whether and when a criminal defendant should pay with his life for an error made by his lawyer. Dorf explains the facts behind the case as well as the relevant legal precedents. He argues that Davila, the criminal defendant in this case, might convincingly argue that his first real opportunity to complain about the ineffectiveness of counsel on direct appeal is in a state habeas proceeding.

An Index Fund is the Next Best Thing to a Blind Trust

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that for extremely wealthy government officials, in order to avoid conflicts of interests based on their financial holdings, could turn to a broad-based diversified portfolio, rather than having to utilize a blind trust. Dorf explains why this particular solution works for extremely wealthy individuals and why President-elect Donald Trump and much of his cabinet should take heed.

The North Carolina Legislature’s Power Grab is Unfair and Undemocratic. Is it Also Illegal?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the recent actions by the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature stripping the newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper of much of the power of his office. Dorf explains some of the potential legal challenges to this legislative action and argues that this reckless attitude is a danger to democracy.

Ohio’s Six-Week Abortion Ban Bill and the Future of Roe v. Wade

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why a group of legislators in Ohio recently voted to adopt a law that prohibits abortion of any fetus with a “detectable heartbeat”—around six weeks after conception—in clear violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 holding in Roe v. Wade. Dorf describes what a “Trump Court” might do (and what it might not do) with respect to this Ohio law and others like it.

Why—and How—President-Elect Trump’s Conflicts of Interest Matter

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why President-elect Donald Trump’s conflicts of interests are problematic for the country. Dorf argues that the primary risk is that a Trump administration will pursue policies that further Trump’s business interests at the expense of the national interest. Dorf also points out two other risks posed by Trump’s conflicts of interest: the possibility of unjust enrichment and the cultural shift that corruption at the top could catalyze.

Liberal Activism in the Age of Trump

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf shares some of the lessons he has learned as a vegan animal rights advocate, and explains how they apply to other policy areas. In particular, Dorf argues that in order to build a world in which presidential candidates do not pander to humanity’s basest otherizing instincts, we should aim to persuade our fellow humans of our point of view, not merely to organize to outvote them.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Versus Colin Kaepernick

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent public criticism (which she has since retracted) of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his protesting against police brutality and racial oppression by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. Dorf distinguishes criticism ex cathedra from criticism given while off the bench and concludes that while Justice Ginsburg was within her right to speak her mind, she was also correct to subsequently take back her comments.

Should Self-Driving Cars Be Mandatory?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the proposed policy guidelines the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released that relate to the logistics of self-driving cars. In this column, Dorf looks ahead to a time when the majority of vehicles on the road will be self-driving and considers the potential consequences of regulating the few manual cars that will remain. While there is an argument to be made that people's choices and personal freedom should outweigh government interference, Dorf explains that the benefits to the larger population's welfare that self-driving cars may one day offer is likely to win out over time.

The Future of the Supreme Court, Regardless of Who Wins the Election

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains what can be deduced about the Supreme Court's future, even before the 2016 US presidential election. Dorf references the role that the Court plays in American public life while also offering notable examples of areas where the Court has little to no say. Additionally, Dorf reminds readers that many more cases are decided unanimously than by a single vote and that it is difficult to predict future ideological divisions among justices, regardless of whether they were nominated by a Republican or Democratic president.

Pivots and Other Pathologies of American Democracy

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the widely accepted phenomenon in United States elections known as the “pivot,” whereby candidates in both parties change positions between the primary and general elections to appeal to the voters in those particular elections. Dorf explains why candidates commonly pivot, and why general acceptance of this practice should be troubling.