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 Evolution of Chief Justice John Roberts

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that Chief Justice John Roberts is, perhaps surprisingly, on the left of the current Court partly because of the Court moving far to the right in recent years and partly because of Roberts’s evolution as a jurist. Professor Dorf explores why Roberts has shifted, noting that he seems simply to adhere to a principle that historically liberals, moderates, and conservatives all agreed upon: don’t lie about the law.

Justice Breyer’s Legacy

In light of the news of Justice Stephen Breyer’s imminent retirement, Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf reflects on Justice Breyer’s career. Professor Dorf observes that Justice Breyer lacks a distinctive legacy largely for two reasons: (1) he was junior to O’Connor, Kennedy, and Ginsburg for their time on the Court together and thus did not get key liberal assignments, and (2) as a pragmatist and compromiser, his reasoning relied more on nuance than on bold strokes.

Can the Public Trust that an Unmasked Justice Gorsuch was Unbiased About Mandates?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf asks whether we can trust that Justice Neil Gorsuch—who was the sole Justice not to wear a mask during oral arguments last week—was unbiased in considering two challenges to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates. Professor Dorf argues that Justice Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask indicates that he either does not believe the public health guidance or thinks he should be free to decide for himself whether to follow it—both of which possibilities undercut public confidence in the basis for his votes in the vaccine cases.

A Year After the Capitol Insurrection, the Threat is Coming from Inside the Building

In light of the approaching one-year anniversary of the January 6 Capitol Insurrection, Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the next assault on American democracy could come from within the Capitol and other institutions of American democracy. Professor Dorf points out that the phrase “political violence” is an oxymoron in the context of a democracy; to practice democratic politics is to accept a common set of ground rules for resolving policy disputes peacefully, and when the loser of an election uses violence to try to change the result, democratic politics ceases functioning.

Who’s a Bounty Hunter? How the Supreme Court’s Own Standing Precedents Answer the Effort to Normalize Enforcement Outsourcing in the Texas Abortion Case

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why the concern expressed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent in the Texas abortion case (Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson) that other states will follow Texas’s example and employ “private bounty hunters” is well founded and legitimate.

Justice Kavanaugh’s Misdirection Plays in the Mississippi Abortion Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the Court will consider whether to overturn the right to abortion recognized in Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases. Specifically, Professor Dorf analyzes statements and questions by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, particularly in light of statements he made during his confirmation hearing.

Democrats Should Accept Mitch McConnell’s Debt Ceiling Offer as a Holiday Gift

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why Democrats should accept without further delay Senator Mitch McConnell’s offer of a streamlined process to pass a debt ceiling increase via the reconciliation process. Professor Dorf points out that due to opposition to filibuster reform by Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, this is the only way to avoid an economic catastrophe as a result of the debt ceiling crisis.

A Question by Justice Thomas During the Second Amendment Argument Inadvertently Exposes a Weakness of his Originalist Philosophy

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explores the meaning of a question Justice Clarence Thomas asked during the oral argument in New. York State Rifle. & Pistol Association v. Bruen about the interpretation of the Second Amendment: “should we look at the founding, or should we look at the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, which then, of course, applies it to the states?” Professor Dorf argues that the question exposes a weakness of Justice Thomas’s originalist philosophy and affirms what we already know about arguments rooted in original meaning: they typically serve a rhetorical function, and Justices invoke them to justify decisions taken on other, ideological, grounds.

The Supreme Court’s Authority is at Stake in the Texas Abortion Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that even the procedural issues presented in the federal government’s challenge to Texas’s restrictive abortion law are high stakes. Professor Dorf argues that the procedural question fundamentally asks whether the U.S. Supreme Court will permit state-sanctioned lawlessness.

Money, Law, and Other Noble Lies

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf critiques the suggestion that the Treasury might instruct the Mint to create high-value platinum coins to pay federal obligations and avert a debt ceiling crisis. Professor Dorf argues that such action risks eroding public confidence in the very idea that money has value. He recognizes that in a democracy, government should generally trust the People with the truth but says there is sometimes a need to promote a “noble lie” for the good of society.

Is Democratic Gerrymandering of New York’s Congressional Delegation Hypocritical? Perhaps, But Unilateral Disarmament is Worse

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that Democrats may be justified in gerrymandering New York’s congressional districts even as they complain about gerrymandering by Republican-controlled state legislatures in Texas, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. Professor Dorf points out that it is sometimes but not always hypocritical to seek to change the law but continue to engage in behavior inconsistent with the change one seeks, and in the case of political gerrymandering, failure to do so amounts to unilateral disarmament.

Would Overruling Roe v. Wade Retroactively Reanimate “Zombie” Abortion Laws?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses an often overlooked procedural aspect related to Texas’s extreme anti-abortion law that could result in “zombie” laws taking effect in every other red state. Professor Dorf argues that there are several reasons to hope that a state scheme to retroactively enforce zombie abortion laws would fail, even if the Supreme Court curtails or eliminates the abortion right itself, not the least of which is that retroactive application of zombie laws is fundamentally unfair.

Mexican Government Lawsuit Against U.S. Gun Makers Tests the Limits of Territoriality

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses a lawsuit in which the government of Mexico is suing U.S. firearms manufacturers in federal court for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent their weapons from ending up in Mexico, profit from the trafficking of U.S.-made guns to Mexico, and in some respects deliberately target the illegal Mexican market. Professor Dorf argues that while the lawsuit presents strong moral and policy grounds for granting the Mexican government the relief it seeks, a 2005 federal statute, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), will likely prevent it from succeeding.

How Long Will Andrew Cuomo Need to Wait for a Talking Head Gig on CNN or MSNBC?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers the possible next steps for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who recently announced his intention to resign amid multiple sexual harassment allegations. Professor Dorf observes that due to the media’s and society’s quick forgive-and-forget mentality, many disgraced politicians and celebrities quickly reemerge in the spotlight, suggesting that we are living in a post-shame society; Cuomo is likely to do the same.

Improve the Supreme Court by Making it Less and More Like Elementary School

In light of the Presidential Commission holding hearings on Court expansion, Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf offers two reforms that build on the observations of others and his own experience. Professor Dorf suggests that the Court spread cases out over the entire year, rather than only between October and June/July, and that the Justices rotate the order of questioning from one argument to the next.

The Real Issue in the Puerto Rican Cockfighting Case Before the Supreme Court

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recently filed petition in the U.S. Supreme Court presenting the question whether Congress had the constitutional authority to ban cockfighting in Puerto Rico. Professor Dorf explains why the Court is unlikely to agree to hear the case, but he points out that the case presents a broader issue of laws that proscribe one unpopular form of cruelty to animals (e.g., cockfighting), even as the vast majority of the law’s supporters routinely demand animal products that come from the infliction of suffering on a much more massive scale—the meat and dairy industries.

The Troubling Implications of the SCOTUS Arizona Voting Rights Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, in which the Court upheld along ideological lines two Arizona voting laws, one of which restricted who could collect mail-in ballots and the other of which invalidated votes mistakenly cast in the wrong district. Professor Dorf argues that even if the bottom line in Brnovich is correct, the legal analysis and the Court’s broad acceptance of Republican talking points about voter fraud portend ill for the future of American democracy.

Challengers to the Affordable Care Act Lose their Third Supreme Court Case: Will They Bring a Fourth?

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week rejecting a third legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether challengers could bring (and succeed on) a fourth. Professor Dorf explains why subsequent challenges are unlikely to succeed, pointing out that a nonexistent obligation (as the so-called individual mandate now is) cannot be unconstitutional.

Naomi Osaka, Disability Accommodations, and Platonic Essentialism

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers how the recent treatment of tennis player Naomi Osaka by the professional tennis establishment highlights key aspects of disability law. Professor Dorf argues that while reasonable people can disagree in many cases about what constitutes the “essence” of a sport for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), no one can plausibly argue that speaking to reporters at a press conference is in any way essential to playing tennis.

Could the Supreme Court Erode But Not Overrule Roe v. Wade in the Mississippi Case?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether and how the U.S. Supreme Court next term might eliminate or substantially curtail the constitutional right to abortion recognized in Roe v. Wade. Professor Dorf describes the jurisprudence after that decision and argues that a decision that upholds the Mississippi law while purporting to forestall deciding the ultimate fate of Roe would be brazenly dishonest—albeit somewhat more likely than a clear overruling of Roe.