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
Repeal of Iraq War Authorization While Leaving Post-9/11 Authorization Will Send Mixed Signal

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the apparently imminent repeal of two Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs) against Iraq. Professor Dorf argues that while their repeal can be seen as an acknowledgment of the terrible error of invading Iraq and a reassertion of the principle of separation of powers, the action is insufficient so long as the post-9/11 AUMF remains in place, giving the President extraordinary power to deploy the military overseas without congressional involvement.

Jack Daniel’s Claims to Have a Sense of Humor, but its Supreme Court Case Against a Poop-Themed Dog Toy Suggests Otherwise

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving a trademark infringement lawsuit by Jack Daniel’s against a maker of dog toys. Professor Dorf points out that while consumer confusion can undermine trademarks, confusion is also a characteristic of effective parody

The Inadequate “Adequate State Law Ground” Doctrine

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week in Cruz v. Arizona, in which a 5-4 majority of the Court delivered a rare victory to a capital defendant. Professor Dorf describes the circuitous path Cruz’s case took and how it highlights an inadequacy in the standard for viewing the “adequacy” of state law grounds for denying federal judicial intervention.

What’s the Difference Between Spying by Balloon Versus by Satellite?

In light of recent news that the U.S. shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon, Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the differences between spying by ballon and spying by satellite and explores some of the murky legal areas with respect to sovereign airspace, outer space, and military uses of both. Professor Dorf points out that modern satellites can capture remarkably clear images of Earthbound sites, but a comparably equipped surveillance balloon, in virtue of being ten or more times closer to the Earth’s surface, can necessarily capture even greater detail.

Does President Biden’s Plan to End the COVID Emergency Affect Pending SCOTUS Litigation Involving Title 42 and Student Debt Forgiveness?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether the Biden administration’s announcement that it would end the COVID states of emergency in May affect pending Supreme Court cases involving immigration policy and student debt forgiveness. Professor Dorf explains why the news is unlikely to affect the outcome of the immigration case and, conversely, why it might affect the student debt forgiveness case.

The “Not Renewed” Excuse at Hamline and Elsewhere

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent controversy over Hamline University’s dismissal of adjunct professor Erika Lopez Prater when a student complained after she displayed a historically important 14th-century painting of the prophet Muhammad. Professor Dorf explains why the university president’s technically-accurate statement that Lopez Prater was “not fired” highlights the exploitative nature of colleges and universities increasingly relying on untenured and underpaid adjunct faculty.

George Santos and the Right of Candidates to Lie

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the revelation that George Santos, who is scheduled to take the oath of office as a new member of Congress tomorrow, lied about nearly his entire biography. Professor Dorf explains why the First Amendment likely prevents candidates from being held criminally liable for their lies, but he points out other ways we can sanction candidates who blatantly lie to gain office.

Lessons from Sam Bankman-Fried’s Brief Stay in a Bahamian Jail

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf reflects on what we might learn about criminal justice systems from FTX co-founder and former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and his brief stay in a Bahamian prison. Professor Dorf points out that the prison where Bankman-Fried was detained has been described as “not fit for humanity”—not unlike many prisons in the United States and elsewhere. He argues that no one—regardless of wealth or social status—deserves that kind of suffering on top of their term of imprisonment.

Can SCOTUS Prevent Free Speech from Swallowing Anti-discrimination Law?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the options available to the U.S. Supreme Court as it considers 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, which presents a clash between a Colorado law forbidding places of public accommodation from discriminating based on sexual orientation and a conservative Christian web designer’s objection to creating material that, she says, tacitly expresses approval of same-sex marriage. Professor Dorf points out that the Court could conclude that the case does not implicate free speech at all, but instead it will almost surely rule against Colorado, which could pose a potentially existential threat to anti-discrimination law.

Will the Supreme Court Respect the Respect for Marriage Act?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the scope and limits of the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA), which would codify a federal right to same-sex marriage. Professor Dorf argues that while the RMA cannot guarantee marriage equality for the long run, for now, it seems like a sensible hedge against an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court.

Voters’ Misplaced Trust in Republicans on Inflation and the Broader Economy

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why voters should not expect Republicans to do a better job than Democrats handling inflation and the broader economy, and in fact will likely permanently weaken the U.S. economy and the U.S. as an actor on the world stage. Professor Dorf describes why the current Republicans are different from those in the past, and why they pose a unique threat of holding the entire global economy hostage unless Congress enacts and the President signs their radically conservative agenda into law.

The Injustice, Insincerity, and Destabilizing Impact of the SCOTUS Turn to History

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent cases demonstrate that the Supreme Court’s self-professed originalists are acting in bad faith, knowing that professed originalism is no more than a rhetorical envelope they can stuff with their conservative policy views. Professor Dorf explains why the Court’s new test of “text, history, and tradition” is unjust, insincere, and destabilizing.

Justices Ponder Implications of California’s Humane Welfare Standards for Pigs

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the oral argument in National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) v. Ross, in which the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether California’s Proposition 12 violates the dormant Commerce Clause. Professor Dorf observes that based on their questioning, the Justices are concerned about the case’s implications for other types of regulations based on a state’s moral interests and may seek a procedural “out” to avoid deciding the difficult question.

Congress Should Protect Voluntary Affirmative Action in Private Colleges and Universities

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains how Congress can (and argues that it should) protect affirmative action in private colleges and universities in light of the supermajority of the Supreme Court that seems hostile to affirmative action. Professor Dorf points out that even if his suggestion seems far-fetched in the current political climate, urgent calls for action now can effectively arm advocates to effect change when they are better positioned to do so in the future.

Federal Judge Accepts Extravagant Complicity Claim to Exempt Company from Obligation to Provide Lifesaving Medicine

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by a federal district judge in Texas holding that a for-profit corporation was entitled to an exception from the legal obligation to provide employees with health insurance covering pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which protections against infection with HIV/AIDS. Professor Dorf explains the absurdity of the court’s conclusion, which is based on an extension of the Supreme Court’s dubious logic in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

SCOTUS Animal Welfare Case Could Implicate State Power to Ban Abortion Pills

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court involving a challenge by the pork industry to a California law—Proposition 12—that was adopted by referendum in 2018. Professor Dorf explains why Supreme Court should uphold Prop 12 against the plaintiffs’ “dormant” Commerce Clause claims, and he considers the implications of that holding on state power to ban abortion pills from other states.

What the Divided Argument in the SCOTUS Affirmative Action Cases Could Mean

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the possible significance of the Supreme Court’s decision to divide, rather than consolidate, argument in the affirmative action cases it will be deciding next term. Professor Dorf suggests the decision would allow Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to participate in one of the cases and could also allow the Court to attend to at least two important factual and legal differences between the two cases.

Twitter’s Lawsuit Paints Elon Musk as a Trump-Like Troll: That’s Potentially Good for Shareholders but bad for Everyone Else

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on Twitter’s lawsuit against Elon Musk over Musk’s announcement that he was terminating his April agreement to purchase the company for $44 billion. Professor Dorf describes how Musk’s bully-like behavior is reminiscent of Donald Trump’s and describes the possible (and likely) remedies the Delaware court might deem appropriate.

Dobbs Double-Cross: How Justice Alito Misused Pro-Choice Scholars’ Work

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminating the constitutional right to abortion misused pro-choice scholars’ work in an attempt to justify overturning Roe Casey. Professor Dorf observes that by pointing readers to the body of work by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Professor John Hart Ely, and other pro-choice scholars, Justice Alito effectively calls attention to their robust defense of abortion rights as essential to sex equality and an account of how the current hyper-conservative Court’s rulings are profoundly illegitimate.

The Peculiar Historical Methodology of the SCOTUS Handgun Carry Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the Supreme Court’s opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen invalidating a New York law restricting licenses to carry concealed handguns to persons able to demonstrate a “special need” for one. Professor Dorf explains that the majority opinion adopts a methodology that focuses exclusively on history, which he argues could make it nearly impossible for government to protect people from new threats due to gun violence.