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

Can Congress Ban Bump Stocks?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why, if Congress wants to ban or further regulated the sale of “bump stocks,” it should act quickly or risk missing the window in which regulation is possible. Dorf points out that the test the Supreme Court uses for whether weapons count as “arms” protected by the Second Amendment is whether they are in “common use,” not whether they are “dangerous and unusual weapons.” Dorf argues that so long as bump stocks remain legal, people can accumulate them, and if enough people do that before they are banned, there could be so many in circulation as to qualify as in common use, thereby falling within the scope of Second Amendment protection.

What’s Different—And What Isn’t—About Travel Ban 3.0

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf describes some of the key similarities and differences between the most recent iteration of President Trump’s ban on entry to the US by certain foreign nationals (“Travel Ban 3.0”) and earlier versions, and considers whether these differences will affect the determination of the policy’s legality. Although the Supreme Court might not ultimately be the court that answers the question, Dorf points out that we may have an answer before too long.

Supreme Court of Israel Requires Ultra-Orthodox Men to Perform Military Service

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the Israel Supreme Court holding that the government’s policy of exempting Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) from military service was unconstitutional discrimination. Dorf describes the background of the legal system in Israel and explains how the relationship between the court and the elected officials in that country might inform judicial review in other democracies.

Supreme Court of India Protects a Right to Privacy

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the Supreme Court of India in which that court ruled that the Constitution of India protects a right of privacy. Dorf explains the significance of the decision not only for the largest democracy in the world, but also for people in other constitutional democracies, including the United States.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Rules That Citizenship Must Be Equally Heritable Through Fathers and Mothers

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the heritability of citizenship and explains why the decision might have implications for other immigration issues, such as the “Muslim ban” executive order. Dorf argues that the precedents the Court had to distinguish to reach its conclusion might give some insight into whether and how it might defer to other political branches on immigration issues.

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.