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 six books on constitutional law and related subjects. Professor Dorf blogs at Dorf on Law.

Columns by Michael C. Dorf
The Least Interesting Branch: Why Supreme Court Leaks Reveal Little

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent series of articles published on CNN.com purporting to reveal deep secrets about the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberations. Dorf points out that the so-called revelations about the Court reveal little or nothing that Court watchers don’t already know or infer, which, paints a reassuring picture of the Court as operating behind closed doors exactly as we expect it to.

What Good Is a Treaty That Congress Can Simply Discard? Quite a Bit, as the Creek Nation’s Victory in the Supreme Court Shows

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in McGirt v. Oklahoma, holding that a substantial portion of the state of Oklahoma is an Indian reservation of the Creek Nation. Dorf observes that the majority’s approach in McGirt makes it more likely that courts will find the existence of reservations for other tribes, but there could be collateral consequences in many other contexts.

Mr. Dooley Meets Mr. Justice Gorsuch: Will the Election Returns Follow the Supreme Court?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses a claim by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley that the purpose of originalism and textualism is to provide a mechanism for obtaining results that religious conservatives favor on ideological grounds. In light of two recent Supreme Court decisions that disappointed conservatives, Dorf considers how conservatives might respond to these decisions and expresses hope that they might rethink their support for Trump. Dorf observes that while Supreme Court rulings do sometimes follow election returns, the reverse is also sometimes true, and we can’t yet know which direction this year will flow.

Would Eliminating Qualified Immunity Substantially Deter Police Misconduct?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the proposal that eliminating or substantially reducing the qualified immunity currently enjoyed by police officers would address racism and police brutality. Although the idea has lately garnered some bipartisan support and could potentially have some benefit, Dorf describes two reasons to be skeptical of the suggestion. He concludes that for all of its flaws, qualified immunity may actually facilitate the progressive development of constitutional rights.

Before She Died, “Jane Roe” Said She Was Never Really Pro-Life: Does It Matter?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the revelation that before she died, Norma McCorvey—the woman who was the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade and who had subsequently become a prominent spokesperson for overturning the decision—said she was never really pro-life after all. Using this example, Dorf explains why, in some ways, the individual plaintiff’s identity does not matter for the purpose of deciding an important legal issue, yet in other ways, the plaintiff’s underlying story can be very important for other reasons.

Supreme Court Reverses “Bridgegate” Convictions

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court reversing the convictions of two New Jersey officials for their role in the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal of 2013. Although the Court made clear that the underlying conduct was dangerous and wrong, its holding reversing the convictions may effectively permit corrupt bullies to continue to exercise political power, due in part to inadequate responses from other political actors.

Rethinking Retroactivity in Light of the Supreme Court’s Jury Unanimity Requirement

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday in Ramos v. Louisiana, in which it held that the federal Constitution forbids states from convicting defendants except by a unanimous jury, Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the Court’s jurisprudence on retroactivity. Dorf highlights some costs and benefits of retroactivity and argues that the Court’s refusal to issue advisory opinions limits its ability to resolve retroactivity questions in a way that responds to all the relevant considerations.

Why Did the U.S. Supreme Court Endanger the Lives of Wisconsin Voters?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent per curiam opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court effectively requiring that in-person voting in the Wisconsin primary election go as scheduled and without deadline extension for mail-in ballots, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Dorf argues that the decision is the result of partisan politics and petty sticklerism in the Court and will unnecessarily endanger the lives of voting citizens.

Supreme Court Gives States the Green Light to Infringe Copyrights

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that Congress lacked constitutional authority to enact the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990, which gives individuals the right to sue a state for damages for copyright infringement. Dorf describes the complexity of the Court’s sovereign immunity doctrine and points out the Court’s peculiar failure to simply invalidate a portion of the statute while severing and preserving the valid portions and/or applications of it—which the Court has done in some other cases.

Rethinking Generational Justice in Light of the Coronavirus Catastrophe

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf observes that the unfolding catastrophe of COVID-19, the now-pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus, will require all of us—whatever our politics, religion, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and age—to come together and unite to defeat it. Dorf builds upon insights by Verdict columnist and University of Florida Law professor Neil Buchanan that generational justice is the wrong lens through which to view questions about funding Social Security because the real distributional problems in our society exist in the here in now and require people to work together, not at cross-purposes.

D.C. Circuit Dismissal of Congressional Subpoena Lawsuit (Further) Erodes American Democracy

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit holding that federal courts could not enforce a congressional subpoena to former White House Counsel Don McGahn because federal courts cannot adjudicate interbranch disputes. Dorf describes some of the major flaws in the court’s reasoning and explains why the ruling is a clear victory for Donald Trump and a loss for the constitutional system.

New York Sues the Trump Administration Over “Trusted Traveler” Eligibility

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on New York’s lawsuit against the federal government over the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to exclude New York residents from eligibility for Trusted Traveler programs. Dorf describes some of the interesting legal questions the lawsuit raises in terms of administrative law, judicial standing, and constitutional law.

Discrimination and the “Leveling Down” Puzzle

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf considers how much freedom the government has to “level down” in response to a finding of impermissible discrimination. Dorf discusses several of the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedents on leveling down and points out that these decisions are difficult to reconcile with each other and leave unresolved the questions whether and when leveling down is permissible.

The Equal Rights Amendment and Article V

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the possible consequences of the Virginia legislature’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) just last week, becoming the 38th state to do so. Dorf explains why there remains a question as to the validity of Virginia’s ratification, given the Amendment’s purported deadline, and explains why both liberals and conservatives alike should urge Congress to deem the ERA now valid.

Is John Roberts a Closeted Never-Trumper? Reading Between the Lines of the Chief Justice’s Year-End Report

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf offers one interpretation of Chief Justice John Roberts’s annual year-end report on the federal judiciary—that the Chief Justice intends to serve as a modest counterbalance to President Trump. Dorf supports his interpretation with text and context of the year-end report but offers his cautious praise to the Chief Justice with a few important caveats as well.

If There Are No “Obama Judges” or “Trump Judges,” Does the Constitution Permit Delaware to Require Partisan Balance on its Courts? The Supreme Court Will Decide.

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a case the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review that presents the question whether a provision of the Delaware Constitution that requires the state’s judiciary be nearly equally balanced between Democrats and Republicans is constitutional. Dorf argues in favor of the provision, explaining that the provision takes into consideration partisan affiliation as means of limiting the role of politics in judicial appointments and judging.

Trump Administration Lawyer Asserts That a State Courthouse is no Different from a Burger King

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a lawsuit in which New York State and other plaintiffs are suing the federal government over an immigration policy of arresting undocumented immigrants when they appear in state court on unrelated matters. Dorf explains why the federal judge hearing the case should reject the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The Argentine Election and the Limits of the Peter Principle

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on Argentina’s national elections last month, in which the country elected as Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who had previously served as President of Argentina from 2007 to 2015. Dorf considers why Kirchner, and indeed anyone, would accept a lower position than what she has previously held. Dorf argues that due to the Peter Principle—which states that workers in a hierarchical organization tend to rise to their level of incompetence—we would do well as a society to abandon the whole concept of a demotion.