Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the founder and CEO of CHILD USA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit academic think tank at the University of Pennsylvania dedicated to interdisciplinary, evidence-based research to prevent child abuse and neglect. Before moving to the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Hamilton was the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

Hamilton is the leading expert on child sex abuse statutes of limitations and has submitted testimony and advised legislators in every state where significant reform has occurred. She is the author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge University Press), which advocates for the elimination of child sex abuse statutes of limitations. She has filed countless pro bono amicus briefs for the protection of children at the United States Supreme Court and the state supreme courts. Her textbook, Children and the Law, co-authored with Martin Gardner, will be published Fall 2017 by Carolina Academic Press, formerly Lexis/Nexis.

Hamilton has been a vocal and influential critic of extreme religious liberty, advocating for the vulnerable about overreaching. Hamilton successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) at the Supreme Court in Boerne v. Flores (1997), and defeated the RFRA claim brought by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against hundreds of child sex abuse survivors in Committee of Unsecured Creditors v. Listecki (7th Cir. 2015). She has represented numerous cities dealing with church-state issues as well as claims brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA). The author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty (Cambridge University Press), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, she is also a columnist for Verdict on

Hamilton has been honored with the 2018 Pennsylvania State University Department of Philosophy Distinguished Alumni Award, the 2017 University of Pennsylvania Law School Louis H. Pollak Public Service Award, the 2016 Voice Today, Voice of Gratitude Award; the 2015 Religious Liberty Award, American Humanist Association; the 2014 Freethought Heroine Award; the National Crime Victim Bar Association’s Frank Carrington Champion of Civil Justice Award, 2012; the E. Nathaniel Gates Award for outstanding public advocacy and scholarship, 2008; and selected as a Pennsylvania Woman of the Year Award, 2012, among others. She is also frequently quoted in the national media on child abuse and neglect, statute of limitations, constitutional, RFRA, RLUIPA, and First Amendment issues.

Hamilton clerked for United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Edward R. Becker of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Professor Hamilton is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, B.A., summa cum laude; Pennsylvania State University, M.A. (English, fiction writing, High Honors); M.A. (Philosophy); and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, J.D., magna cum laude, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif.

Columns by Marci A. Hamilton
What Would the Framers Do?

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton examines the current U.S. presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, through the lens of the Founding Fathers’ constitutional principles and concerns about tyranny and abuse of power. Professor Hamilton argues that neither candidate is suitable for the presidency based on the Framers’ ideals, with Biden potentially leading to an ineffective government due to age-related issues and Trump posing a threat to democracy through his authoritarian tendencies, ultimately suggesting that voters should reject both options.

The Religious Liberty Step Too Far That Could Destroy the Common Good If We Let It

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton discusses the transformation of religious liberty in the United States into a force that can harm others, critiquing the misuse of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the rise of radical religious liberty law. Professor Hamilton argues that while religious liberty includes the absolute right to believe and speak about one's religion, it should not extend to conduct that harms others, warning against the dangerous trend of using religious liberty as a weapon against marginalized groups and advocating for a return to the original principles of the First Amendment.

This Is Why I Have Faith in the Future of the United States Despite the Ill Winds of Fascism and Christian Nationalism

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton argues that the United States faces two significant threats: Donald Trump, whom she describes as a fascist with dictatorial aspirations, and a right-wing evangelical-fundamentalist Catholic axis intent on a theocratic takeover, both of which undermine democracy and civil rights. Professor Hamilton emphasizes that these threats are bolstered by historical distortions and a disregard for the Constitution, yet she expresses hope in the public’s rejection of this authoritarianism, as evidenced by reactions to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision and the preservation of abortion rights in conservative states.

Trump, Evangelicals, and Why Indictments Don’t Shake Their Support

Penn professor Marci Hamilton highlights the alarming alignment between Donald Trump and right-leaning evangelicals in undermining the rule of law, suggesting that both view it as an expendable barrier to their goals. Professor Hamilton draws attention to Trump's lawlessness and the evangelicals' belief that their religious convictions should override legal principles, creating a synergy where both groups assist each other, even as Trump faces legal accusations.

How Did Six Conservative Catholics Become Supreme Court Justices Together?

Penn professor Marci Hamilton and UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explain how six conservative Catholics were able to be on the U.S. Supreme Court at the same time. Professors Hamilton and Griffin describe how 1970s and 1980s laid the groundwork for today’s conservative Catholic Court and argue that this group is making extraordinary progress toward making the United States a Catholic theocracy.

Federal Bankruptcy Law Is Toxic for Child Sex Abuse Victims

Marci A. Hamilton—a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania and the founder and CEO of CHILD USA—explains why federal bankruptcy law causes harm to child sex abuse victims. Professor Hamilton points out that numerous Catholic dioceses, as well other large, powerful groups like the Boy Scouts of America and USA Gymnastics have used Chapter 11 to keep their secrets and avoid fairly compensating victims.

The Roadmap for Pregnant Girls and Women to Assert Their Religious Liberty to Invalidate Abortion Bans

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton calls upon the majority of Americans to insist that their worldviews and beliefs—not just those of the extreme Christian right—be recognized in the courts. Professor Hamilton explains how many individuals seeking an abortion in states that prohibit them can use a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to obtain an exemption to the abortion ban.

The Supreme Court Further Dismantles the Establishment Clause, Empowers Religious Parents to Obtain Taxpayer Funds for Sectarian Schools, and Ignores the Rights of the Children in Carson v. Makin

University of Pennylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week in Carson v. Makin, in which it held the Free Exercise Clause requires Maine to subsidize religious private schools because it subsidized non-religious private schools. Professor Hamilton argues that the decision further erodes the Establishment Clause and disregards the rights and needs of children.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act Formula Comes Full Circle in Florida

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton comments on the recent news that the Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, a Jewish synagogue in Florida, has sued the state under the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) over its new restrictive abortion laws that it argues violate their religious faith. Professor Hamilton praises the synagogue for leading the charge against an oppressive minority but condemns the tool it must use to do so—RFRA— which Hamilton argues is a tried-and-true path to religious division and mutual intolerance.

Wake Up Good People: Overruling Roe v. Wade Is Just One of the Three Fronts in the Religious War Against America

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describes three fronts in the war by religious conservatives against America: (1) the fight against abortion and contraception, supported by a minority of Americans, (2) a demand that those who share the same religious beliefs should be above the law, and (3) a demand that religious entities be treated “equally” with any others receiving government dollars. Professor Hamilton calls upon the majority of Americans—including congresspeople—who don’t share these beliefs to act and vote, and to stop deferring to religious actors before they turn our country into a theocracy.

Why We Still Like Separation of Church and State

Penn professor Marci A. Hamilton and UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explain why the separation between church and state is such an important principle in American democracy and describe ways in which this separation is being eroded. Professors Hamilton and Griffin urge courts and lawmakers to keep the states and the nation from being run by the world’s religions.

Texas’s Extreme Abortion Law Threatens Girls’ Lives

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describes how Texas’s extreme anti-abortion law threatens the lives of female children in that state. Professor Hamilton argues that the law is effectively encouraging citizens to engage in economic trafficking of vulnerable girls, particularly girls who have been subject to sexual predators.

A Tale of Two States and the Roads Taken and Blocked to Child Protection

Penn professor Marci A. Hamilton describes how New York and Pennsylvania differ in their approaches to protecting child victims. Professor Hamilton praises New York for taking substantial steps to protect abuse survivors, in sharp contrast to Pennsylvania, where the state legislature has repeatedly failed to take meaningful action to give survivors access to justice.

The Time Has Come: Local, State, and Federal Officials Need to Mandate COVID-19 Vaccination Now

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton calls on local, state, and federal officials to require COVID-19 vaccination in order to effectively address the acute health crisis the virus’s variants imminently pose. Professor Hamilton argues that we should treat those who refuse to get vaccinated, without sound medical reasons for doing so, the same way we treat drunk drivers: civilly and criminally liable.

The Supreme Court’s Hits and Misses on Children’s Civil Rights During the 2020 Term

Marci A. Hamilton, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, discusses several decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court this past term that affect children’s rights: Fulton v. Philadelphia, addressing whether a religious social services agency can refuse to place children with same-sex couples; Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., addressing whether a teen could be punished for speech on Snapchat, off school grounds and addressed to her own audience; and NCAA v. Alston, addressing whether the NCAA can deny student-athletes education-related benefits while exploiting their athletic achievements. Professor Hamilton notes that two of these three benefit children, while Fulton, which focuses exclusively on the adults involved and not the children, leaves open the possibility that states can pass neutral laws to meaningfully value the needs of children.

The Cosby Conviction Reversal Reveals a Faultline in Our Justice System for Sex Assault Victims: Unfairly Short Statutes of Limitation

Marci A. Hamilton, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, comments on the recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturning Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction. Professor Hamilton argues that the decision illustrates the need for states to reform both civil and criminal statutes of limitations (SOLs) to give sexual assault and abuse survivors their day in court.

Why We Like Smith: We Want Neutral and General Laws to Prevent Harm

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin and University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describe how the current Supreme Court is furtively undermining neutral and general laws by embracing a so-called “most favored nation” theory. Professors Griffin and Hamilton explain that under this dangerous approach, otherwise neutral laws that might incidentally burden religious exercise (such as zoning laws or public health regulations) are constitutionally suspect if they create any exceptions for purportedly secular activities, and, they argue, this can result in legal discrimination and harms to groups including LGBTQ+ individuals, children, those with disabilities, and others.

The Evangelization of Lawlessness: RFRA Was the First “Big Lie”

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, argues that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was the first “big lie” in that purported to “restore” case law but actually gave religious actors the right to be above the law. Professor Hamilton notes two bills that have been introduced in Congress that would take measures to carve back RFRA’s destructive reach and which would not, contrary to some claims, threaten true religious liberty.

The Steps the Biden Administration Needs to Take to Rescue the U.S. from the Precipice of Theocracy

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, describes the steps the Biden administration needs to take to bring the country back from the precipice of becoming a theocracy. Professor Hamilton highlights action items with respect to the Department of Justice, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment, tax exemptions and accountability, and governmental financial support for organizations engaged in discriminatory practices.

To Our Elected Representatives in Congress: The Framers Wouldn’t Be Surprised a President Attempted a Coup, Just Disappointed You Didn’t Stop It Sooner

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, pens an open letter to members of Congress, describing Wednesday’s insurrection by pro-Trump extremists as predicable (even predicted) to the Framers and calling upon Congress to impeach and convict the President. Professor Hamilton argues that Donald Trump is the embodiment of what the Framers expected from rulers: self-centered corruption, greed, and no care for the common good.