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 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.

What Facebook and its Oversight Board Got Right and Wrong in the Trump Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s announcement by the Facebook Oversight Board with its verdict regarding the company’s treatment of former President Donald Trump’s suspended account. Professor Dorf argues that the Board’s ruling makes sense in many respects, but makes two mutually exclusive demands of Facebook: clear rules for the sake of predictability and at the same time, flexibility for moderators to consider the individual context of a situation.

What’s in a Name? Genocide, Torture, Eugenics, Taxes, and Humpty Dumpty

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent news that President Joseph Biden is using the word “genocide” to describe the Turkish regime’s murder of roughly 1.5 million Armenians during and after World War I. Professor Dorf explains why language matters in the context of genocide, torture, eugenics, taxes, and Humpty Dumpty.

Could Clarence Thomas Be Right About Twitter?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas in a case in which the Court vacated as moot a federal appeals court ruling that the president cannot block users’ access to his Twitter account. Professor Dorf explains why Justice Thomas’s reasoning is deeply flawed, but he points out that Justice Thomas’s conclusion that the First Amendment might permit Congress to forbid Twitter from moderating content on its site finds unlikely support in arguments historically put forth by progressive politicians and scholars. In their view, very large private actors who exercise power over people’s lives comparable to and sometimes even exceeding that of government should be subject to the same sorts of norms that the Constitution applies to the government.

Sidney Powell Files a Brief Embracing Fact-Free Politics

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a brief filed by Donald Trump’s former lawyer Sidney Powell in a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Professor Dorf argues that Powell’s motion to dismiss the case should fail, but he notes that the argument presented in her brief is more subtle than is generally acknowledged.

How Not to Criticize the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf responds to three broad-based objections by Republican opponents to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: (1) that the already-recovering economy doesn’t need stimulus; (2) that many of the Act’s provisions have nothing to do with COVID-19; and (3) that there will be waste, fraud, and abuse. Professor Dorf explains why these objections ring hollow and argues that while the Act is not perfect legislation and will likely face challenges in implementation, it is a much better option than anything Republicans were offering.

The Hidden Ideological Stakes of SCOTUS Patent Case

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf describes the ostensibly complex legal issues presented in United States v. Arthrex, Inc., in which the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument earlier this week, and explains how those issues reflect an ideological divide as to other, more accessible matters. Professor Dorf argues that although many conservatives would like to dismantle the modern administrative state, our complex modern society all but requires these government agencies, so conservatives instead seek to make them politically accountable through a Senate-confirmed officer answerable to the president, furthering the so-called unitary-executive theory of Article II.

The Upside-Down Treatment of Religious Exceptions Cases in the Supreme Court

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to reject an emergency application from the State of Alabama to lift a stay on the execution of Willie B. Smith III. Professor Dorf observes the Court’s unusual alignment of votes in the decision and argues that, particularly as reflected by the recent COVID-19 decisions, the liberal and conservative Justices have essentially swapped places from the seminal 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, which established that the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to exceptions from neutral laws of general applicability.

The Excessive Complexity of Federal Court Gatekeeping Law

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why Trump v. Sierra Club, a challenge to President Trump’s border wall currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, exemplifies the needless complexity of federal court gatekeeping law. Professor Dorf lists the various legal doctrines that restrict access to the federal courts and argues that their number and complexity tend to undercut, rather than serve, justice.

Obstacles to the Biden Agenda Include Americans’ Belief in Nonsense

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the willingness of Americans to believe lies and misinformation, pointing to confirmation bias and social media bubbles as playing key roles in this problem. Professor Dorf argues that we must render Trumpism beyond the pale, in part by shunning those who spread lies and minimizing opportunities for them to spread dangerous misinformation and incite riots.

Odysseus, Avocados, and Election Litigation Timing

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the legal concepts of ripeness and laches, which pertain to the timing of filing a lawsuit, and argues that in the context of election lawsuits, it is far better for courts to relax ripeness rules and risk unnecessary adjudications than to discard the doctrine of laches and risk widespread disenfranchisement and the undermining of confidence in fair elections.

Burrowing and Boobytraps: How Trump’s Eleventh-Hour Maneuvers Differ From Those of Previous Lame-Duck Presidents—and How They Don’t

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf argues Trump’s actions during his final months are different from those of past presidents, and particularly dangerous. As Dorf explains, Trump is aiming to do damage for its own sake, whereas other lame-duck presidents have at least sought to advance policy aims in pursuit of some conception of the common good.

Mandatory Vaccination and the Future of Abortion Rights

In light of recent news that Pfizer and Moderna have apparently created safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19, Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether the government can mandate vaccination for people who lack a valid medical reason not to get vaccinated. Dorf briefly addresses issues of federalism and religious objections to vaccination and then addresses the question whether mandatory vaccination might be inconsistent with a right to abortion.

The Affordable Care Act Challenge and the Senate Runoff Elections in Georgia

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the third challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that has made it before the U.S. Supreme Court, and considers how the case will play in the upcoming Georgia runoff elections. Dorf argues that absent a dramatic and highly unusual development—like a Supreme Court decision rejecting the ACA challenge in the next few weeks—that should help the Democratic candidates in Georgia’s runoff elections.

Options for Biden’s Supreme Court Reform Commission

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explores several options that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden should consider if he wins the election and fulfills his proposal of convening a bipartisan commission of constitutional scholars to study and recommend court reforms. Dorf discusses the benefits and limitations of each option and describes how Congress and a President Biden could implement meaningful court reform that could withstand review by the Supreme Court itself.

In Gratuitously Attacking Marriage Equality, Clarence Thomas Accidentally Raised an Important Question About the Scope of Religious Liberty

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a statement by Justice Clarence Thomas (joined by Justice Samuel Alito) gratuitously expressing his hostility to the Court’s same-sex marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and his sympathy for Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even after the Supreme Court’s decision. Although Justice Thomas characterizes Davis and those like her as people who “refus[e] to alter their religious beliefs in the wake of prevailing orthodoxy,” Dorf points out that no one asked Davis to alter her religious beliefs. Rather, the lawsuit against her contends that she must provide services to the public in accordance with their constitutional rights, whatever her religious beliefs.