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

Ebola and Civil Liberties: Lessons From Gitmo

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf analogizes the authority of the government to enact quarantine measures to its authority (as established under Supreme Court precedents) to detain unlawful enemy combatants. Dorf argues that while courts are likely to reject the most outrageous detention policies, they are unlikely to reject policies simply for being misguided or unwise.

Two New Rulings Unmask the Weakness of the Case Against Marriage Equality

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf comments on two recent rulings on state bans on same-sex marriage—one by the U.S. District Court for the District of Louisiana upholding that state’s ban and the other by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit striking down bans in Indiana and Wisconsin. Dorf explains how a comparison of these two rulings reveals weaknesses in the case against marriage equality.

Video-Recording Police–Citizen Encounters Is Necessary but Not Enough

In light of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf weighs the benefits and costs of equipping police officers with wearable cameras to record encounters with citizens. Dorf concludes that while there are some risks inherent in the practice, it would be a good first step toward reducing the frequency of tragedies resulting from police–citizen confrontations.

Academic Freedom in the Salaita Case

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses a recent decision by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to revoke an offer to Steven G. Salaita of a tenured faculty appointment after Salaita tweeted strong criticism of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. Dorf explains why the University’s decision presents serious issues of academic freedom and free speech, and even contract law.

Federal Appeals Courts Divide Over Obamacare Subsidies—and Over “Textualism”

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses two federal appeals courts’ recent diverging decisions over Obamacare subsidies. Dorf contrasts the method of statutory interpretation used by the majority of a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which struck down the subsidies, with that of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which upheld them.

How to Fix the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf proposes eight different options for fixing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Dorf suggests that open discussion of what was wrong with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. can inform the public and opinion leaders about how to fix RFRA when the opportunity arises.

Did the Supreme Court Err by Rejecting Political Deadlock as a Basis for Recess Appointments?

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in NLRB v. Noel Canning, in which the Court unanimously invalidated President Obama’s 2012 appointment of three members of the National Labor Relations Board. Dorf discusses the differences between rationales and implications of the five-Justice majority opinion authored by Justice Breyer and those of the four-Justice concurrence authored by Justice Scalia. Dorf argues that the Court’s rejection of political deadlock as a basis for recess appointments could prove to be an important weapon anytime the majority in the Senate is actively hostile to the President.

The Supreme Court Ducks a Treaty Power Question but Raises Broader Questions

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bond v. United States, handed down earlier this week. In that case, the Court considered whether the federal Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act applies to a Pennsylvania woman’s attempted use of mild toxins to cause a skin rash on a romantic rival. Dorf argues that the Court’s ruling sidesteps an important question about the scope of congressional power to implement treaties but that it also announces a presumption of statutory construction that could have far-reaching implications.

Will the Lower Court Consensus on Same-Sex Marriage Influence the Supreme Court?

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses how the lower courts’ consistent rulings in favor of same-sex marriage might influence a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Dorf observes that every single judge to rule on the question has relied on the Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor for the conclusion that SSM bans are unconstitutional. He concludes that while the lower courts’ decisions have no binding effect on the Supreme Court, they might serve as a legal barometer of what is legally plausible and as conduits of public opinion.

A Limiting Principle for the Donald Sterling Case

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf proposes a limiting principle to explain the NBA’s treatment of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Dorf argues that if private speech can be the basis for employment decisions generally, then Sterling’s example could be highly problematic. If, however, Sterling is understood as having created a hostile work environment under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, then the potentially broad and troubling employment implications of disciplining private speech are appropriately curtailed.

The Supreme Court Again Fractures Over Race

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. He provides a brief history of Supreme Court jurisprudence on race and contrasts that history with yesterday’s fractured opinions, which consist of a plurality opinion, three concurrences, and a dissent (with Justice Kagan recused). Dorf explains that while the decision has relatively low doctrinal stakes, the case exposes three important fault lines running through the Roberts Court.

Just Shy of Bribery: The Roberts Court Embraces Francis Underwood’s View of Washington

Justia columnist and Cornell Law professor Michael Dorf critiques the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Comm’n striking down aggregate limits on individual contributions to political campaigns. Dorf argues that the Court’s plurality opinion is poorly reasoned and disregards the broader purpose of aggregate limits: to prevent wealthy donors from buying Congress as a whole.

Supreme Court Oral Argument Shows How Religious Freedom Claims Have Become Ideologically Charged

Justia columnist and Cornell Law professor Michael Dorf discusses yesterday’s oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialty Stores Corp. v. Sebelius, which presented questions over the degree of religious freedom afforded to for-profit corporations. Dorf describes how these issues have evolved over the past two and a half decades and provides several possible reasons they have become so ideologically charged, as they are today.

When Are First Amendment Exceptions Justified?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf contends that recent and ongoing controversies involving First Amendment freedoms pose fundamental questions about the circumstances under which exceptions should be granted to individuals and businesses with objections to complying with general laws. How should these questions be resolved? Dorf posits that the answer may depend upon the particular right in question.

Arizona and Other States Consider Expanding Religious Freedom to Discriminate

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on last week's approval by the Arizona legislature of a bill last week that, if signed by the Governor would greatly expand the scope of religious exemptions from nondiscrimination law in that state. Like measures proposed elsewhere, the Arizona bill grows out of a fear by people opposed to same-sex marriage that they will be required to provide services to same-sex couples. Dorf comments on the relevant issues.