Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
A Tale of Two Juries

Texas law professor Jeffrey Abramson comments on two jury verdicts last week—the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the conviction of three men who attacked and killed Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia—that demonstrate our country’s division over race, guns, vigilantism, and self-defense. Professor Abramson notes that when evidence is borderline, as it was in the Rittenhouse trial, jurors are “liberated” to decide on the basis of their own sentiments and values. Professor Abramson argues that the rushed jury selection process in the Rittenhouse trial effectively placed the Second Amendment, rather than the individual defendant himself, on trial.

Democrats Should Accept Mitch McConnell’s Debt Ceiling Offer as a Holiday Gift

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why Democrats should accept without further delay Senator Mitch McConnell’s offer of a streamlined process to pass a debt ceiling increase via the reconciliation process. Professor Dorf points out that due to opposition to filibuster reform by Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, this is the only way to avoid an economic catastrophe as a result of the debt ceiling crisis.

The Fifth Circuit Completely Botches the Federal Constitutional Issues Raised by OSHA’s Vaccine and Testing Requirements for Large Employers

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone explain why a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit egregiously misunderstands the Commerce Clause issues presented in several lawsuits challenging the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s authority to mandate vaccine and testing requirements for large employers. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone focus on three ways in which the Fifth Circuit gets it wrong and expresses hope that the Sixth Circuit, which is where the lawsuits have been consolidated, does better.

A Question by Justice Thomas During the Second Amendment Argument Inadvertently Exposes a Weakness of his Originalist Philosophy

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explores the meaning of a question Justice Clarence Thomas asked during the oral argument in New. York State Rifle. & Pistol Association v. Bruen about the interpretation of the Second Amendment: “should we look at the founding, or should we look at the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, which then, of course, applies it to the states?” Professor Dorf argues that the question exposes a weakness of Justice Thomas’s originalist philosophy and affirms what we already know about arguments rooted in original meaning: they typically serve a rhetorical function, and Justices invoke them to justify decisions taken on other, ideological, grounds.

Using Legalistic Lawlessness to Protect the Wealthy from the Indignity of Paying Taxes: Part Two of Two

In this second in a series of columns, UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan shows how much of a stretch it would be to say—as conservatives are saying—that all taxes on wealth are unconstitutional and that all progressive taxes are taxes on wealth. Professor Buchanan argues that even if the now-defunct Billionaires Tax proposed by Democrats were a tax on wealth, rather than income, that classification would still not categorically violate the Constitution.

Legalistic Lawlessness and the Strategic Use of Repudiated Supreme Court Precedents, Part One of Two

In this first of a series of columns, UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why, even though Democrats’ so-called Billionaires Tax is not moving forward, there is much to learn from the flurry of commentary published just before it failed. Professor Buchanan explains how easy it would be for a motivated Supreme Court to mangle logic and precedent to make it more difficult for Congress to enact taxes that would collect revenues from the richest Americans, even if the United States soon becomes a one-party autocracy under permanent Republican, non-majoritarian rule.

The Proposed Tax on Billionaires’ Income Is Most Assuredly Constitutional, Unless the Supreme Court Simply Makes Stuff Up

UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why Democrats’ proposed tax on billionaires does not violate any part of the Constitution, despite claims to the contrary. Professor Buchanan argues that the U.S. Supreme Court, in normal times, should recognize that there is no constitutional barrier to the proposed tax, but this ultra-conservative majority Court could defy text and logic and create a new law from whole cloth, as it has done before on other issues.

The Supreme Court’s Authority is at Stake in the Texas Abortion Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that even the procedural issues presented in the federal government’s challenge to Texas’s restrictive abortion law are high stakes. Professor Dorf argues that the procedural question fundamentally asks whether the U.S. Supreme Court will permit state-sanctioned lawlessness.

From Boston to Brunswick, Georgia: The Perils of Jury Selection

Texas law professor Jeffrey Abramson explains why the trial judge in the case against the three men who chased and shot to death Ahmaud Arbery should not commit the same mistake that occurred in the Boston Marathon trial—speeding up jury selection to convict obviously guilty defendants, only to have the sentence thrown out on appeal. Professor Abramson argues that while judges may understandably feel frustrated during jury selection in high-profile cases, taking shortcuts during jury selection risks forcing victims, witnesses, and the community to live through traumatic events twice.

Believing Anita Hill

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a new book by Anita Hill, who famously testified about her sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas before his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Professor Griffin praises Hill’s book for chronicling the history of gender violence and for demanding meaningful reform to address gender violence at all levels of society.

Will the Death Penalty Survive the Pandemic?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat observes that a sharp reduction in executions during the COVID-19 pandemic represents a clear departure from the typical response to crisis in the United States. Professor Sarat explores whether this departure signifies the demise of capital punishment, or instead whether, as suggested by Oklahoma’s plan to execute seven people over the next six months, we will see a return to the historic norm.

The End of Abortion Rights: Texas Law Provides Grim Glimpse of Future

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Texas’s “SB 8” law, which bans most abortions, including those protected by the federal Constitution. Professor Grossman dispels some of the myths about the law and describes some of the ways it is both different and more extreme than other anti-abortion laws.

Why September 17 Is Neither the Only nor Necessarily the Best Day to Celebrate America’s True Constitutional Tradition

In light of Congress’s designation of today, September 17, as “Constitution Day,” Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone explain what this date celebrates and what it overlooks. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone point out that while we should celebrate the drafters at the Philadelphia Convention, we should not disregard the imperfections in their work, or the ways in which Americans have worked to correct those imperfections.

Would Overruling Roe v. Wade Retroactively Reanimate “Zombie” Abortion Laws?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses an often overlooked procedural aspect related to Texas’s extreme anti-abortion law that could result in “zombie” laws taking effect in every other red state. Professor Dorf argues that there are several reasons to hope that a state scheme to retroactively enforce zombie abortion laws would fail, even if the Supreme Court curtails or eliminates the abortion right itself, not the least of which is that retroactive application of zombie laws is fundamentally unfair.

Abolitionists Must Put Reviving Clemency in Capital Cases High on Their Agenda

Amherst College professor Austin Sarat explains why death penalty abolitionists should prioritize seeking grants of clemency in capital cases. Professor Sarat points to studies showing that the use of clemency in individual capital cases has lagged behind a larger trend of states turning away from capital punishment and argues that we as a nation should demand from our leaders the courage and conviction to see people worth saving on death row and to exercise mercy toward them.

Statehood for D.C. Could Not Be Reversed

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan explains why, if the District of Columbia was recognized as a state, that recognition cannot later be reversed. Professor Buchanan argues that to reverse statehood would signal a slippery slope wherein Republicans would be empowered to go well beyond suppressing votes in swing states to instead removing statehood from regions with Democratic voters.

Capitol Police Officer Reminds Americans That Saving Democracy Requires Courage

Amherst College professor Austin Sarat and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comment on an interview of Capitol Police Officer Michael Byrd regarding his role defending against the January 6 riot, and on Donald Trump’s response to Byrd. Professor Sarat and Mr. Aftergut argue that Byrd’s interview reminds us that the best way to deal with a bully who is himself a coward is to call his bluff.

Dead Democracy Walking

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan describes the United States today as a “dead democracy walking”—walking with mortal wounds but not yet dead. While stating that he is open to the possibility of being proven wrong, Professor Buchanan explains why believes that Trump and Republicans have corrupted the American political system beyond repair, and he notes that his subsequent writings and analysis will proceed from the assumption that democracy will soon be dead in this country.

Continuing The Conversation Over the Constitutionality of California’s Recall Mechanism: Why We Are More Convinced Than Ever Before That Equal Protection Challenges to It Lack Merit

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and Michigan Law dean emeritus Evan Caminker continue their conversation with Berkeley Law professor Aaron Edlin and dean Erwin Chemerinsky about the constitutionality of California’s recall mechanism. Deans Amar and Caminker respond to critiques of their arguments and explain why they have grown even stronger in their belief that that equal protection challenges to the recall mechanism are misguided.

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... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

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

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

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

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is the Dwight D. Opperman Professor, Director, Center for Labor and Employment... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... 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... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Fels Institute of Government Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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