Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, praises Senator Al Franken’s newest book, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. Without giving spoilers, Dean shares a few reasons he recommends the book, in which Franken provides unique insight into our political system and demonstrates his capacity for doing the serious work of the US Senate and occasionally injecting it with appropriate touches of comedy.

Got Milk? Eleventh Circuit Holds That Discrimination Because of Employee’s Breastfeeding is Unlawful Discrimination

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent decision in which the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recognized that discrimination because of an employee’s breastfeeding constitutes illegal pregnancy discrimination. Grossman explains the facts leading up to the case and explains why the court found that the employer, the Tuscaloosa Police Department, had violated the employee’s rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Political Impediments to Carving California into Three States, and Why Tim Draper Should Support the NPV Plan for Presidential Elections

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar continues his discussion of the proposal by Silicon Valley billionaire investor Tim Draper to break up California into three separate states. Amar describes several political obstacles to Draper’s proposal and explains how implementation of the National Popular Vote plan could actually help Draper achieve his goal of dividing the state.

A Republican Reverie: If Only Clinton Had Won!

George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan argues that a Clinton victory in 2016 would have been better for Republicans than Trump has been. Buchanan explains why Republican obstructionism, if carried into a Clinton presidency, would have meant longer-term wins for Republicans across multiple branches of government.

Supreme Court of India Protects a Right to Privacy

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the Supreme Court of India in which that court ruled that the Constitution of India protects a right of privacy. Dorf explains the significance of the decision not only for the largest democracy in the world, but also for people in other constitutional democracies, including the United States.

Don’t Shred the Evidence

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments critically on the decision by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to destroy certain records regarding detainees held in ICE custody. Margulies argues that the information ICE seeks to destroy can be helpful in assessing the conditions, staffing, supervision, and practices in various facilities, for the purpose of improving the worst ones and learning from the ones with the best practices.

Out in the Open: The Alt-Right Learns About Privacy in the Modern World

Joanna L. Grossman, SMU Dedman School of Law professor, and Lawrence M. Friedman, a Stanford Law professor, comment on the decreased privacy of the modern world, as recently illustrated by the very public identification of some of the alt-right demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, from photos and videos of the rally. Grossman and Friedman point out that technology is making anonymity a thing of the past and that only affirmative legislative changes, such as recognition of a “right to be forgotten,” can alter that course.

Free Speech Issues Raised by Internet Companies Denying Service to Neo-Nazi Sites

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf uses the refusal of private internet domain registrars to do business with neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer to illustrate the need for a change in the law. Dorf acknowledges that in the case of The Daily Stormer, no rights were violated, and the companies acted within their terms of service. However, Dorf argues that Congress should impose obligations to respect freedom of speech on companies that provide essential internet services to avoid the future possibility that such private companies stifle speech of worthy organizations and legitimate causes.

Indicting the President: President Clinton’s Justice Department Says No

Chapman University Fowler School of Law professor Ronald D. Rotunda explains his legal conclusion in the opinion letter he authored for Ken Star regarding the ability of a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president. Rotunda points out that the key difference between then and now is the presence of a special prosecutor statute protecting independent counsel from removal.

Why One Can Support Affirmative Action but Oppose Favoring Whites Over Asians When Administering It

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the recent indications that the Trump Justice Department will investigate and possibly sue colleges and universities that make use of race-based affirmative action. Without expressing views as to the merits of pending lawsuits, Amar explains how one can simultaneously support race-based affirmative action and oppose the so-called “Asian penalty”—that is, systematically requiring Asian American applicants to have higher scores than white applicants.

What Do Colleges Have to Fear From Trump Justice Department’s Anti-Affirmative Action Policy?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf highlights some potentially dangerous consequences of the Justice Department’s recent indication that it would be investigating and suing colleges and universities that practice affirmative action. Dorf points out that the executive branch holds significant power over both public and private universities and colleges, and that it could exercise that power to induce significant changes in admissions policies.

Reason in the Time of Trump’s Transgender Tweet: The Military Benefits of Fortifying Pro-Dignity and Anti-Discrimination Norms

Illinois Law professor Lesley Wexler explains why the U.S. military would benefit from strengthening its pro-dignity and anti-discrimination norms, rather than implementing divisive discriminatory policies such as President Trump’s recent tweet regarding transgender service members. Wexler points to concrete ways inclusivity fortifies the military and calls upon leadership to embrace inclusive policies.

Unsolicited Opinion: The Department of Justice Files Brief Urging Court to Block Rights for LGBT Employees

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Anthony Michael Kreis comment on a brief recently filed by the U.S. Department of Justice arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect against sexual orientation discrimination. Grossman and Kreis point out the flaws in the DOJ’s arguments and explain the dangerous consequences its position will have if it prevails.

An Attorney General Under (Friendly) Fire: Why Removing Jeff Sessions Is Beside the Point in President Trump’s War Against Robert Mueller

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar argues, contrary to the consensus of legal pundits, that President Trump likely does not have to dispose of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in order to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Amar provides three reasons for his conclusion that the disposition of Sessions is beside the point in the president’s war against Mueller, but he points out that there are more downsides to getting rid of Sessions (for Trump) than there are upsides.

Would a Trump Self-Pardon Precipitate a Constitutional Crisis?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that if President Trump were to pardon himself, that action itself would not cause a constitutional crisis, but other actions Trump has already taken have already placed us far along a road to a constitutional crisis. Dorf defines a constitutional crisis in terms of three types first articulated by Sanford Levinson and Jack Balkin in a 2009 law review article, and Dorf proposes a fourth type characterized by defiance of unwritten norms that are not themselves legal obligations but that undergird the constitutional system as a whole.

So When Will Religious Organizations Choose Not to Discriminate?

Leading church-state scholar Marci A. Hamilton comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in which it held that a female principal of a Catholic school has no legal recourse when a priest engages in gender discrimination that would be actionable in any other setting. Hamilton explains that this is a product of the misguided ministerial exception, which is part of a larger, more troubling social pattern of religious entities demanding a right to discriminate and harm others.

Some Aspects of the Matal v. Tam Trademark Case That Would Have Benefitted from More Explanation

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Matal v. Tam, in which the Court struck down as unconstitutional part of the federal trademark registration statute that prohibits registration of disparaging marks. Amar points out that the Court’s decision in Matal is difficult to square with its reasoning and holding in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Soldiers, a case from two years ago in which the Court upheld Texas’s refusal to approve a specialty license plate design that made extensive use of the Confederate flag image.

Can a Presidential Candidate Get Away With Defamatory Lying?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf analyzes the arguments made by Donald Trump’s lawyers in defending against Summer Zervos’s defamation suit against him, specifically the argument that Trump’s comments were mere “hyperbole” and “fiery rhetoric,” which, in the context of a presidential campaign, do not amount to defamation under state law. Dorf argues that existing law already offers politicians some protections against frivolous lawsuits, and what Trump’s lawyers are asking for is essentially a license for a candidate to lie about anyone and anything so long as the controversy has some connection to politics.

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

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... 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, at... more