Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

The Perceived Threat of Trans Identity

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb explores the reasons behind some people’s refusal to refer to trans men as men and trans women as women. Colb describes some of the concrete harms caused by such refusal, such as policies sending trans women to prisons for the wrong gender—a policy Colb argues violates the Eighth Amendment under the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence.

The Good of the Country, or the Good of the Agency? Some Final Reflections on Gina Haspel

Cornell University law professor Joe Margulies comments on the confirmation hearing of Gina Haspel for director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Margulies initially expressed reservations about Haspel, but he explains her strengths and weaknesses and draws the important distinction between someone who is good for the Agency and someone who is good for the country.

Rape, Racism, Free Speech, and Fraternities

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb examines two (real, but slightly altered) conversations in order to explore the thoughts and feelings that might affect the weight we give to principles that support our positions, while disregarding the same principles when they run contrary to our positions. Colb describes the interrelatedness of conversations that arise regarding rape, racism, and free speech, specifically in the context of college fraternities, but applicable to many other situations.

Understanding Free Speech Controversies on College Campuses: A Summary of a Very Helpful Conversation Between Two Leading Analysts—Erwin Chemerinsky and Geof Stone

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar relates insights on campus free speech principles that came up during a recent discussion with renowned constitutional commentators Erwin Chemerinsky and Geof Stone. Among the insights are some possible explanations for why many college students today seem opposed to allowing offensive speech on campus, the different perspectives on the proper role of university officials regarding controversial guest speakers, and the question of when the costs of providing security for controversial speaker events justifies the cancellation or termination of the event.

Appeals Court Rejects PETA’s “Monkey Selfie” Case

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent Ninth Circuit decision rejecting an effort by PETA to bring a copyright lawsuit on behalf of Naruto, a crested macaque. Dorf points out that while the result in that case is unsurprising, the court’s reasoning raises important questions about the role of lawsuits and law more generally in furthering the interests of nonhuman animals.

The Last Roar of the ‘Liberal Lion’: Judge Stephen Reinhardt Reverses Ruling That Would Have Allowed Employers to Justify Women’s Lower Wages by Prior Salaries

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman describes the last ruling by the late Judge Stephen Reinhardt, in which Reinhardt, writing for the Ninth Circuit en banc, reversed an interpretation of the Equal Pay Act that allowed employeers to justify paying female employees less than their male counterparts based on salary history. Grossman explains why the ruling is a correct interpretation of the Equal Pay Act and notes that the decision underscores Judge Reinhardt’s reputation as a staunch defender of equality and justice.

What California Voters Should Focus on When Voting on Tim Draper’s “CAL 3” Initiative

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on Tim Draper’s proposal to divide California into three separate state. Amar describes what the proposal would do and provides three levels of hurdles that will (and Amar argues should) make the proposal a difficult sell, particularly among rational Democrats, who make up the majority of California voters.

Judicial Nominee Refuses to Say Whether Brown v. Board Was Rightly Decided

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on an exchange during the confirmation hearing of Wendy Vitter, whom President Trump has nominated for a federal district court judgeship, in which Vitter declined to answer whether she thought Brown v. Board of Education was rightly decided. Dorf points out that Vitter’s refusal to answer that question may have been an attempt to avoid further scrutiny about her views about abortion but also served to inadvertently acknowledge what conservatives routinely deny—that a judge’s “personal, religious, and political” views necessarily interact with the legal materials.

The Only Unpardonable Offense

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies expands upon a prior column in which he argued that all of President Donald Trump’s attacks thus far on Special Counsel Mueller are not actually a threat to the rule of law. Margulies considers two other scenarios: delegating the task of firing the special counsel, which Margulies argues does threaten the rule of law, and pardoning those convicted by the special counsel, which he argues does not.

Fly Away: Why the New York City Human Rights Commission is Right to Investigate The Wing, a Private Club and Workspace that is Just for Women

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman considers whether New York’s all-female private social club, The Wing, violates that state’s public accommodations law. Grossman reviews the relevant case law and concludes that The Wing will likely have difficulty arguing that should be exempt from the public accommodations law under First Amendment or public policy grounds.

The EEOC and the #MeToo Era: Is the Budget Increase Enough?

Marci A. Hamilton—a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and the CEO and Academic Director of CHILD USA—considers recent news of the EEOC’s budget increase for fiscal year 2018. Hamilton notes that this appears to be a win for the EEOC and the #MeToo movement at first glance. Nevertheless, Hamilton explains that the increasing public encouragement for victims of sexual misconduct to come forward does not negate the unwillingness of those in power to effect change within the legal system for these victims to have a real chance at justice.

The War Over Women’s Health: The Supreme Court Considers Validity of California Law Mandating that Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers Disclose if They Are Not Licensed

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the recent oral argument in NIFLA v. Becerra, in which so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers challenge California’s Reproductive FACT Act as violating their First Amendment right to free speech by requiring posted information about medical licensure and abortion. Grossman points out that Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor seemed to believe that if California’s FACT Act violates the First Amendment, then so too would laws in other states requiring that doctors engage in anti-abortion (or abortion-deterrent) speech.

Is the Winner-Take-All Method States Use to Select Presidential Electors Legally Vulnerable?

In this second of a two-part series of columns, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar evaluates the major constitutional and statutory voting rights claims asserted in the federal challenge to Texas’s use of the so-called Winner-Take-All approach to selecting the state’s representatives to the Electoral College. Amar explains why he finds both types of arguments set forth in the complaint largely unpersuasive.

Does the Constitution Permit a State to Abolish Marriage?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether, in protest of the Supreme Court’s recognition of the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, states can “get out of the marriage business” altogether. Dorf explains that abolishing marriage for everyone likely poses no equal protection issues, and points out some interesting and unique characteristics about marriage as a fundamental right.

Lessons From the Gina Haspel Imbroglio

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies explains why we should withhold judgment about President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel. Margulies points out that, notwithstanding what we do know about Haspel’s role in facilitating torture at CIA black sites, there is much information we still do not yet know that could inform our assessment of her. He calls upon both the Left and the Right to reduce knee-jerk reactions and instead seek to make careful assessments based on complete information and facts.

R.I.P. Ron Rotunda—A Man Responsible for Watergate’s Most Lasting Positive Impact

Former White House counsel John W. Dean describes the incredible legacy of fellow Verdict columnist, Professor Ronald D. Rotunda, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this week. Dean explains how he came to know Rotunda—through the Watergate hearings—and Rotunda’s critical role in developing the modern-day ethics rules that govern lawyers (“post-Watergate morality”). A prolific writer, Rotunda is perhaps best known for co-authoring the revered Legal Ethics: The Lawyer’s Deskbook on Professional Responsibility, as well as a highly regarded treatise on constitutional law.

2020 Presidential Election Legal Maneuvering: Prominent Lawyers and Law Professors File Lawsuit Challenging Winner-Take-All Method Used by Texas (and Most Other States) to Pick Presidential Electors

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a lawsuit recently filed in Texas challenging the winner-take-all method by which Texas (and other states) administer presidential elections. Amar explains the benefits and drawbacks of the method and why the lawsuit is unlikely to elicit changes in Texas or elsewhere.

Supreme Court Divides Over What a Law Is

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent sharply divided decision by the US Supreme Court in Patchak v. Zinke, in which Court considered whether a particular piece of legislation actually constitutes a law. Dorf explains why the issue was so difficult and points out some of the flaws in reasoning by both the plurality and the dissent.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior... more