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

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.

Justice Breyer Uses Trans Restroom Case to Revive “Courtesy Fifth Vote”

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on Justice Stephen Breyer’s use of a “courtesy fifth vote” to stay lower court rulings that would have allowed a trans student to use the restroom corresponding to his gender identity. Dorf explains the origin and history of the “courtesy” vote in the U.S. Supreme Court and argues that Justice Breyer’s attempt to invoke and expand it is inappropriate in this particular context.

Trump’s Law and Order Versus the Rule of Law

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the difference between “law and order,” a term Donald Trump uses to describe his approach to governance, and “rule of law,” a principle that those in positions of authority exercise their power even handedly and consistently, within a framework of public norms. As Dorf explains, Trump’s law-and-order message, taken in conjunction with his observed business practices, is that of an authoritarian ruler—one who imposes rules on others yet sees himself above and unconstrained by law.

What’s the Matter With “Bomb Robots”?

In light of recent events in Dallas, Texas, Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers the use by local police of a “bomb robot” to kill the man who shot twelve police officers and two civilians. In particular, Dorf addresses (1) whether the use of the bomb robot represents an important change in policing, (2) whether the robot is a military tool inappropriately used in a domestic policing situation, and (3) whether its use in this instance violated the Constitution.

Trump’s Post-Orlando Statements Reveal the True Nature of His Proposed Ban on Muslim Immigration

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf evaluates statements made by Donald Trump in response to the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando this past weekend. Dorf argues that by telling American Muslims that they are all presumed to be terrorists, Trump actually fosters resentment and radicalization in the small portion of the American Muslim community that has the potential for radicalization.

Prisoner Case Underscores Justice Scalia’s Legacy

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses a recent unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that illustrates the lasting impact Justice Scalia had on the Court’s approach to statutory interpretation. Dorf describes the shift from purposivism to textually constrained purposivism over the past half century, and explains how they differ from the textualism Justice Scalia espoused.

Supreme Court Requires “Concrete” Injury for Standing

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, in which the Court unremarkably affirmed its position that a plaintiff in federal court must have suffered (or be in danger of imminently suffering) a “concrete and particularized injury.” Dorf explains why, in cases such as Spokeo that involve one private party suing another, the Court should abandon the concreteness requirement of judicial standing.

Are Long Death Penalty Delays Unconstitutional?

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf considers whether long delays in carrying out capital punishment render the practice unconstitutional. Dorf responds specifically to an argument put forth by the late Justice Scalia that execution delays are chiefly the result of the extensive procedures that the Court’s liberals have required for carrying out an execution.

Prosecutorial Discretion: The Dog That Didn’t Bark in the Immigration Oral Argument—Yet

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Texas, a case involving a challenge to the Obama Administration’s deferred action immigration policy. Dorf points out that underneath the procedural questions actually before the Court in that case is a crucial unasked question: What is the scope of the president’s prosecutorial discretion not to enforce laws duly enacted by Congress?

Supreme Court Convenes a Settlement Conference

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf comments on a recent unusual order by the U.S. Supreme Court asking for supplemental briefing from the parties to the latest religious challenge to Obamacare. In contrast with other commentators who have described the order as “puzzling” or “baffling,” Dorf explains how the Court’s order resembles something federal district courts do on a routine basis: facilitate settlement of the dispute.

Does Boredom Explain Some of Trump’s Appeal?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the American public's enduring fascination with Donald Trump, and explains how the social science of boredom may be at play in it. Dorf highlights studies that explain this phenomenon from distinct angles, and applies the findings to the general voting populace as a means of explaining why people just cannot seem to get enough of Trump, regardless of whether they agree with his politics.

Trump’s Anatomy Is More Relevant Than You Think

In light of Donald Trump’s recent comments about his anatomical endowment, Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the role of virility—and perceived virility—among prior American presidents and other world leaders of history. Dorf points out that while some studies suggest popular perception of one male candidate as “more manly” than another might give him an edge up, analysis shows that result cannot necessarily be extrapolated to predict male versus female elections.

Senate Republicans Offer Laughable Reasons for Refusing to Confirm an Obama Supreme Court Nominee

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf explains why Republicans’ claims that President Obama lacks democratic legitimacy in appointing a successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Dorf points out that the reasons offered thus far for refusing to confirm an Obama nominee seem to imply that originalism/formalism can be validated or invalidated by popular approval, even absent a constitutional amendment.

What War Is Good For

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf reviews Sidney Tarrow’s new book, War, States, and Contention. Dorf considers how Tarrow’s view of the role of contentious politics applies in the current political campaign and examines the relation between national security and domestic social movements.

How Un-rule-y is the First Amendment?

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf considers an issue on which the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral argument: whether the First Amendment protects a government employee from adverse action based on the government’s mistaken belief that the employee was engaged in speech or association. Dorf highlights the nuances of the case and whether there is a meaningful difference between rule-guided conduct and reason-guided conduct.