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 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.

The Supreme Court Considers What Role States May Play in Intellectual Disability Determinations

Justia columnist and Cornell Law professor Michael Dorf discusses an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case addressing how to determine whether a criminal defendant is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty. Dorf explains the potentially far-reaching implications of the case, Hall v. Florida, and cautions that a ruling for Florida could undermine the uniformity of federal constitutional law.

The Supreme Court’s Responsibility for Recent Death Penalty Mishaps

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf argues that what the late Justice Harry Blackmun famously called “the machinery of death” still remains deeply flawed. Dorf illustrates his point through two recent, controversial executions that illustrate how the practice of capital punishment continues to defy attempts to civilize it, and suggests that the responsibility is to be placed at the Court's door.

Obamacare and Participation in Evil

Cornell law professor and Justia columnist Michael Dorf comments on the Supreme Court’s Obamacare/RFRA cases, which he notes present a number of important legal issues, as well as a fundamental question for any liberal democracy: To what extent should people be exempted from laws that they regard as requiring them to participate in evil?

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf explains why government officials around the country feel compelled to permit Festivus poles as part of their official holiday celebrations. How did we get to this point? The short answer, Dorf explains, is that Festivus poles in state capitols are an unexpected side effect of the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

Who Benefits From Filibuster Reform?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf explains the politics behind filibuster reform, in the wake of the elimination of the rule requiring a supermajority vote to end debate—and thus to move to a merits vote—on presidential nominations to the lower federal courts and executive offices.

How the Supreme Court Unwittingly Legitimized Richie Incognito’s Unlawful Conduct

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the legal and other aspects of the incidents by which Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito bullied and racially harassed his teammate Jonathan Martin, to the point that Martin left the team. Dorf also notes that, interestingly, several U.S. Supreme Court cases are relevant to the controversy regarding Incognito’s behavior.

Don’t Expect the Latest Mass Shootings to Produce Gun Control Legislation

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf contends that mass shootings will never lead to gun-control laws. While he notes that the gun lobby plainly plays a role in that situation, Dorf also sees the difficulty of getting such laws passed as a failure of democracy: Although more people favor than oppose additional gun-control measures, the gun-control opponents appear to favor gun rights with greater intensity than the intensity with which the majority favors gun control.

Could the President Bomb Syria Even If Congress Says No?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on President Obama’s options in Syria. Dorf notes that Secretary of State John Kerry’s position is that the President can act without Congress. But Dorf calls that position profoundly misguided, citing international law and the U.N. Charter on the use of force. Dorf also points out that Congressional approval cannot substitute for Security Council authorization. Moreover, he comments on prior presidents who faced situations in which there was a lack of Congressional authorization for the use of force.

The Obama Administration Has Temporarily Cut Military Aid to Egypt, But Still Won’t Call the Coup a Coup: Why Modern Presidents Evade the Law

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the situation in Egypt, arguing that President Obama’s dubious legal position with respect to Egyptian aid fits a recent pattern of American presidents acting as though they are not constrained by law when it comes to American foreign policy. To support his thesis, Dorf cites choices made by Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush.

What’s So Odd About A-Rod Playing Baseball Pending Appeal? Nothing. Courts Allow It All the Time

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf points out that, in allowing Alex Rodriguez to continue to play baseball despite charges that he violated rules forbidding the use of performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball is simply doing what U.S. trial courts typically do: Even after coming to a judgment, they suspend that judgment pending appeal. Moreover, Dorf argues that the case for permitting A-Rod to play pending appeal is actually stronger than the case for suspending other sorts of judgments. Dorf also explains why the decision whether to suspend a judgment pending appeal can be complicated and controversial, illustrating the point by citing the Proposition 8 litigation.