Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
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.

Hate Crimes and Free Speech

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why the view that hate crime legislation violates the freedom of speech is incorrect and has radical and undesirable logical implications. Professor Colb points out that speech in this context is used as a basis for inferring a person’s motive, and people generally agree that motive can be a relevant consideration in determining whether certain conduct is permissible.

An Update on the Lawsuit Challenging Illinois’s Districting Plan, McConchie v. Illinois State Board of Elections

In this third of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone discuss a recent federal lawsuit b Republican minority leaders in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly, specifically focusing on recent developments in the litigation. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone explain why they do not expect the Illinois Supreme Court to support doing anything but letting the revised district lines (if they be revised as they expect) go into effect.

Doubling Down on the Case for the Unconstitutionality of the California Recall

Berkeley Law professor Aaron Edlin and dean Erwin Chemerinsky respond to arguments by Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and Michigan Law dean emeritus Evan Caminker regarding the constitutionality of California’s recall process for governor. Professor Edlin and Dean Chemerinsky first rebut the argument that California Supreme Court precedent determines the outcome in this case and then argue on the merits that California’s recall process attempts to do in two steps what is clearly unconstitutional to do in one; because the ballot is an election for who will be governor, the candidate with the most votes should be the one chosen.

Déjà vu All Over Again: California’s Upcoming Recall Vote For Governor is Resurfacing Some Old—and Flawed—Constitutional Critiques

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and Michigan Law dean emeritus Evan Caminker explain why critiques of California’s upcoming vote to recall Governor Gavin Newsom are erroneous. Deans Amar and Caminker describe several other mechanisms that effectively deny voters the opportunity to elect whomever they might want and point out that those mechanisms are very similar, and in some cases, more restrictive, than the recall vote mechanism.

Assessing the Federal Lawsuit Brought by Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to Challenge his Disqualification from Holding Future State Office

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar comments on a recent lawsuit by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich challenging the state legislature’s prohibition on his holding future state office. Dean Amar explains several reasons that the lawsuit is unlikely to succeed, including issues with the Eleventh Amendment, Article III standing, and justiciability.

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.

Beverly Brazauskas’s 2003 Case Against the Diocese

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin describes a recent conversation with Beverly Brazauskas—a woman who in 2003 lost a lawsuit against a Catholic bishop and diocese—in which Brazauskas reflects on her case. Professor Griffin points out that Brazauskas’s loss epitomizes the saying “you can’t win when you go up against the church” because religion in the United States is often treated as above the law.

The Worst Sequel of 2021: “Debt Ceiling Zombies Attack!”

UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan comments on the (again) impending debt ceiling crisis if Senate Republicans (again) do not adjust the federal debt ceiling by the end of this month. Professor Buchanan reiterates the reasons the debt ceiling is unconstitutional and calls upon President Biden to instruct the Treasury Department to pay all bills in full, using exactly as much borrowed money as Congress’s duly enacted laws require, and to immediately announce that he will do so.

What If Edwards v. Vannoy Had Gone the Other Way?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Vannoy, in which it held that a prisoner may not invoke the denial of his Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury as a basis for challenging his criminal conviction when filing a federal habeas corpus petition. Professor Colb explains why, if cost/benefit analysis played a role in determining retroactivity, the Court perhaps should have decided that case the other way.

New Texas Abortion Statute Raises Cutting-Edge Questions Not Just About Abortion but About the Relationship Between State and Federal Courts

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone analyze some of the issues presented by a new Texas anti-abortion statute that is to be enforced entirely by private plaintiffs. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone explore the unusual characteristics of the law and describe some approaches opponents might take—and indeed Whole Woman’s Health (WWH) has already filed a lawsuit in federal court that seems to follow an approach the authors describe.

The Real Issue in the Puerto Rican Cockfighting Case Before the Supreme Court

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recently filed petition in the U.S. Supreme Court presenting the question whether Congress had the constitutional authority to ban cockfighting in Puerto Rico. Professor Dorf explains why the Court is unlikely to agree to hear the case, but he points out that the case presents a broader issue of laws that proscribe one unpopular form of cruelty to animals (e.g., cockfighting), even as the vast majority of the law’s supporters routinely demand animal products that come from the infliction of suffering on a much more massive scale—the meat and dairy industries.

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.

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