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
Advice to Alumni Donors: Pay the Piper but Don’t Call the Tune

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the challenge faced by colleges and universities in accepting donations from wealthy alumni and other benefactors while maintaining academic freedom and independence from ideological influence. Professor Dorf argues that while donors have the right to direct their funds to specific purposes, they should refrain from using their financial leverage to unduly influence hiring decisions or curriculum, as doing so undermines the scholarly and pedagogical judgment that is essential to the success and value of these institutions.

Regulating Civil Disobedience on Campus

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses how colleges and universities should handle student protests that violate campus rules, exploring whether such rule-breaking can be considered civil disobedience and what disciplinary consequences may be appropriate. Professor Dorf argues that while protesters should face consequences for rule violations, universities should consider showing some leniency for peaceful protests involving minor infractions, and that developing fair policies requires an inclusive process involving students, faculty, staff and administrators, as well as robust due process protections.

Political Animals: What Kristi Noem’s Dog Killing Says About the Rest of Us

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses Republican politicians, particularly Kristi Noem, and their involvement in controversial incidents related to animal cruelty. Professor Dorf argues that while the outrage directed at these politicians for their mistreatment of individual animals is justified, it is hypocritical for most people to condemn these actions while continuing to participate in a food system that causes immense suffering to billions of animals.

Federal Antidiscrimination Law Does Not Require Campus Crackdowns

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the recent conflict at Columbia University involving student protests, potential antisemitism, and the balance between free speech and protection from harassment on college campuses. Professor Dorf argues that while Title VI of the Civil Rights Act obligates colleges to prevent harassment, free speech should be more strongly protected in public campus spaces, and the sensitivities of observers should hold less weight there compared to other campus settings.

Indiana Court Finds a Right to Abortion on Religious Grounds

The opinion piece discusses a recent Indiana appeals court ruling that granted religious exemptions to the state's restrictive abortion law based on Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The author argues that this ruling could have broader implications, potentially providing a basis in federal constitutional law to challenge abortion restrictions nationwide on the grounds of religious discrimination.

Judicial Chaos is a Symptom. (Mostly) Asymmetrical Polarization is the Disease

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the Supreme Court’s handling of the Texas v. United States case involving a controversial Texas immigration law, using it as an example of the broader issue of increased polarization and chaos in the federal court system due to the courts’ expanding “shadow docket.” Professor Dorf argues that while both political parties bear some responsibility for this polarization, Republicans have moved much further from centrism, contributing more to the acute political divide that has spread to the courts and is exemplified by the Texas Republicans’ extreme stance on immigration in this case.

Shrinkflation, Inflation, and Climate Change

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses President Joe Biden’s commentary on “shrinkflation” during his State of the Union address, particularly Biden’s call to pass legislation to combat this deceptive practice where companies reduce the product size while maintaining the price. Professor Dorf explains why he agrees with the need to address shrinkflation but critiques Biden’s focus on junk food examples, arguing that consuming fewer unhealthy products might not harm consumers. Additionally, Professor Dorf highlights a broader issue of consumerist populism and the inconsistency in addressing economic policies and environmental challenges.

Of Embryos, Elections, and Elephants: Are Rights Always Zero-Sum?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision last week in LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, P.C., in which it equates frozen embryos with “extraeuterine children,” thereby using fetal personhood rhetoric to jeopardize IVF practices. Professor Dorf argues that this reasoning not only undermines prospective parents’ freedoms but also reflects a flawed understanding of rights as zero-sum, contrasting sharply with instances where expanding rights can enhance societal well-being.

Trump Lawyer Reads the Constitution Like a Secret Code Requiring Decryption

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments in Trump v. Anderson, in which the Justices seemed inclined to overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision that disqualified Donald Trump from the state’s Republican primary under the Fourteenth Amendment for “engaging in insurrection.” Professor Dorf points out that the Justices’ questioning revealed a spectrum of potential rationales, from concerns over political retribution and the historical interpretation of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to structural arguments about federal versus state authority in determining a candidate’s eligibility for the presidency.

Should Death Penalty Abolitionists Try to Make the Death Penalty More Humane?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the recent execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama, questioning the humanity of this method and comparing it unfavorably to other methods like lethal injection and electrocution. Professor Dorf delves into the complexities of the death penalty, including the constitutional implications, the effectiveness of alternative execution methods, and the ethical dilemmas facing death penalty abolitionists and pharmaceutical companies regarding the provision of more humane execution drugs.

Trump and House Republicans’ Heads-I-Win-Tails-You-Lose View of Impeachment

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses Republicans’ political manipulation of the impeachment process, particularly in the context of Donald Trump’s flawed immunity claims and House Republicans’ baseless impeachment investigations against President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Professor Dorf emphasizes that impeachment should be grounded in actual high crimes and misdemeanors, not political disagreements or policy choices.

A Holiday Guide to Donald Trump’s Latest Cases at the Supreme Court

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf points out that the U.S. Supreme Court faces critical decisions in two cases involving former President Donald Trump: one regarding his claim of absolute immunity against charges for his role in attempting to overturn the 2020 election, and the other concerning his eligibility for the Presidency under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Professor Dorf argues that despite Trump’s legal team arguing for more time due to the complexity of the immunity case, the Court should expedite its review in both cases, given the urgency of presidential primaries and the weak nature of Trump’s claims, especially against the well-founded argument that he is ineligible under the Fourteenth Amendment due to insurrectionist activities.

Justices Thomas and Alito Want a Constitutional Right to Pray Away the Gay

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a case challenging Washington State’s ban on conversion therapy, Tingley v. Ferguson, and specifically the implications of the dissent from Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Professor Dorf explains that their dissenting opinion demonstrates their willingness to invalidate such bans based on free speech, a stance that could undermine the regulation of medical practices. Professor Dorf points out that while a circuit split exists on the legality of conversion therapy bans, the broader concern is the potential impact of the Justices’ views on medical regulation, including recent decisions regarding access to abortion medication like mifepristone.

Bad and Worse Ways for the Government to Lose the SEC SCOTUS Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the pending U.S. Supreme Court case SEC v. Jarkesy, which questions the constitutionality of administrative law judges (ALJs) in the SEC and their role in enforcing securities laws. While Professor Dorf believes the Court should reject all three constitutional challenges presented in the case, he suggests that if the Court does rule against the government, the least disruptive outcome would be based on the removal issue rather than the Seventh Amendment or nondelegation claims.

Could Congress Solve the Supreme Court’s Disqualification Problem?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the Supreme Court’s new Code of Conduct, despite being a step towards addressing ethical concerns, is insufficient due to its lack of enforcement mechanisms and the Court’s history of questionable conduct. Professor Dorf suggests that, despite Justice Alito’s assertion to the contrary, Congress has the authority to impose stricter ethical rules on the Supreme Court and could even explore innovative solutions like a “pinch-hitter” system using retired Justices or federal appeals court judges to address recusal challenges.

Maybe Sam Bankman-Fried is an Altruist and a Crook

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s conviction of Sam Bankman-Fried on fraud charges related to the operations of his cryptocurrency platform, FTX. Professor Dorf notes that while some view him as a contemporary Robin Hood, given his donations to effective altruistic causes, his actions raise questions about the line between altruism and criminality.

Did SCOTUS Finally Wake Up to the Threat of State Nullification of Federal Law?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the effect and implications of Texas’s SB8 law and Missouri’s Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) on federal law and the judiciary. Professor Dorf argues that both laws employ a strategy to circumvent federal court review, but suggests there may be growing recognition among Supreme Court Justices of the dangers posed by such laws, which seek to undermine federal authority and judicial review.

Maybe the Speaker of the House Must be a Member of Congress

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf analyzes whether the U.S. House of Representatives can choose a Speaker who is not a current member of Congress. While conventional wisdom suggests that a non-member could serve as Speaker due to the lack of explicit qualifications in the Constitution, Professor Dorf argues that this interpretation may be faulty, citing original understanding, historical practice, and functional considerations. Professor Dorf concludes that while the Constitution is unclear on this issue, the absence of explicit language should not be taken as carte blanche to make any choice, and that both liberals and conservatives should be cautious in their assumptions about what the Constitution does or does not allow.

Mr. Menendez is Presumed Innocent. Senator Menendez is Not.

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the indictment against New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who is accused of accepting bribes to influence foreign relations and other matters. Professor Dorf acknowledges the legal presumption of innocence in a criminal trial setting but argues that due to the ethical responsibility Senators have towards their constituents and the country, they are not entitled to the same presumption in their role, and the weight of the allegations and evidence against Menendez should prompt his resignation or expulsion from the Senate.

Texas Re-Fights the Civil War

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses a recent legal battle over Texas’s placement of buoys and barriers in the Rio Grande River to deter migrants, a move ruled likely unlawful by Federal District Judge David Ezra. Professor Dorf criticizes Texas’s subsequent emergency stay appeal, argues that the state’s legal justifications are implausible and undermine federal supremacy, and suggests that the state is improperly attempting to sidestep federal authority on issues of national security and immigration.