Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

Legislating LGBTQ Rights From the Courts in the United States and Brazil

Brazilian legal scholar Igor de Lazari, Brazilian law professor Antonio G. Sepulveda, and attorney David S. Kemp compare the evolving recognition of the rights of LGBTQ individuals in Brazil and the United States. De Lazari, Sepulveda, and Kemp describe specifically the role of courts in recognizing these rights and establishing protections in the absence of clear legislation.

Advice for State Courts in the Aftermath of Rucho

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, in which the Court held that disputes over partisan gerrymandering are political questions that are beyond the competence of federal courts to resolve. Amar argues that while state courts may attempt to process partisan gerrymandering claims under state statutes and state constitutional provisions, they would need to do so not under the federal Constitution but under independent and adequate state-law grounds.

The Court That Cried “Exigency”

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb and George R. El-Khoury, JD, comment on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last month applying the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement to permit the admission in evidence of a blood-alcohol test administered on an unconscious driver. Colb and El-Khoury describe some of the problems with using the exigent circumstances exception to arrive at the result in this case and propose some alternative approaches that might yield the same outcome but for stronger reasons.

Small Steps Forward: New York Legislature Increases Protections for Sexual Harassment Victims

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman describes recently passed anti-discrimination laws in New York that improve protections for victims of sexual harassment and assult. Grossman describes the role of the #MeToo movement in increasing awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault and praises New York for being a leader in protecting the rights of women.

Constitutional Democracy, Trust, and Self-Restraint: The Destructive Consequences of Republicans’ Opportunism

University of Florida Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan laments the current precarious situation of our constitutional democracy. He argues that a constitutional democracy becomes unsustainable and ultimately dies when a party abuses and changes the system to maintain its power, which he observes Republicans are doing now.

Did the Trump Justice Department Seek to Change its Legal Team in the Census Case Because the Original Lawyers Refused to Lie?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent back-and-forth involving the Department of Justice seeking to place a new legal team on the Trump administration’s effort to justify the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Dorf points out that whoever ends up representing the administration, this attempted withdrawal may shed light on the merits of the case and the lengths to which the President and those who serve him are willing to go for the citizenship question.

“Pretext” and Review of Executive Decisionmaking in the Citizenship Census Question Case

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire, arguing that courts should not get involved in determining whether agency action is based on “pretext.” Rather, Estreicher suggests that this particular case was highly unusual and that the Court’s decision should be limited accordingly.

The 100-Year Anniversary of the First State Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment: Reflections on the Breadth of Freedom from Discrimination in the “Right to Vote”

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Illinois’ ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar reflects on what it means to be free from discrimination in the right to vote. Amar points out the connection between the right against discrimination in voting and the right discrimination in jury service and calls upon us all to consider what full, equal citizenship means.

After Supreme Court Ruling, Are Profane Trademarks Truly “FUCT”?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued this week invalidating a provision of the Lanham Act that prohibited registration of “immoral” and “scandalous” trademarks. Dorf provides a brief history of the legal protection for profane speech and considers the implications of a more precisely worded statute regulating profanity for trademark registration purposes.

Junk Science, Junk Law: Eugenics and the Struggle Over Abortion Rights

Joanna L. Grossman, SMU Dedman School of Law professor, and Lawrence M. Friedman, a Stanford Law professor, comment on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last month upholding a provision of Illinois law that prescribed the disposition of fetal remains. Grossman and Friedman focus their discussion on Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion and his discussion of eugenics, which they argue is inapt and a distorted telling of history.

Dismantling the Falsest Comparison: Why a Woman’s Right to Choose Has Nothing to Do With Nazism and Jim Crow

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies addresses comments made in an op-ed by Atlanta District Attorney John Melvin that opponents of restrictive abortion laws are similar to Nazis or supporters of Jim Crow laws. Margulies explains why the comparison is not only intellectually and morally bankrupt, but also shameful, deserving of the most direct condemnation.

The Supreme Court Dramatically Narrows the Establishment Clause in American Legion v. American Humanist Association

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, comments on the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, in which the Court upheld against an Establishment Clause challenge a large cross on public land in Maryland. Hamilton argues that in reaching its conclusion, a majority of the Court ignores the purpose of the Establishment Clause—to create a bulwark against the tyranny that results from the joinder of government and religious power to rule.

Christians Win Again in the Supreme Court

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin discusses the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week upholding the display of a World War I memorial cross on public land. Griffin argues that the majority erroneously and unnecessarily complicated the question asked by the Establishment Clause, effectively forgetting that the United States is not a Christian nation and that the Constitution requires the government not to prefer one religion over any other (or none at all.

Federalism and State Autonomy in Operation: Florida Bans Sanctuary Jurisdictions in the State, in Sharp Contrast to California’s Approach

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar contrasts Florida’s recent enactment of one of the strictest measures in the country to prohibit state and local entities from becoming “sanctuary” jurisdictions with California’s pro-sanctuary state laws. Amar explains this autonomy of states to enact such different laws with respect to federal laws as a product of the so-called anti-commandeering doctrine the Supreme Court has applied in three major cases over the past quarter century.

You Can’t Have Your Meat and Eat It Too: “Big Ag’s” Conflicting Positions About Regulating New Food Technologies

Jareb Gleckel, a third-year law student at Cornell Law, comments on the legal and regulatory issues that arise from new food technologies such as “cell-based meat”—which is derived from stem cells to create meat that is identical, at the cellular level, to animal flesh, but does not require the raising and slaughtering of animals. Gleckel explains why both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been asked to exercise jurisdiction over this cell-based meat and argues that, given the position of “Big Ag” that the USDA should regulate cell-based meat, cell-based meat companies therefore have the right to call their products “slaughter-free meat,” “cruelty-free meat,” “antibiotic-free meat,” or even simply “meat.”

Elected Dictators? The Limits of What Government Officials Can Do With Their Power

University of Florida Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan considers whether America, having elected Donald Trump, must consequently accept everything he does as “democracy at work.” Buchanan argues that constitutional processes exist not only to protect democracy not only in word but also in spirit, and that extreme consequences of legal action can still threaten the future of democracy.

Use It or Lose It: The Supreme Court Gets a Procedural Point About Title VII Unanimously Right

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court clarifying a procedural point about Title VII and the requirements of employees filing discrimination claims in federal court. As Grossman explains, the Court’s opinion correctly minimizes the importance of a technical requirement of employees and might as a result provide greater protection to employees who suffer from workplace discrimination.

Does the Constitution Require the Insanity Defense?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses a question the U.S. Supreme Court will consider next term—whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits a state’s abolition of the insanity defense. Colb points out the various ways in which our current criminal justice system arbitrarily excuses some sources of criminal conduct but not others, and she argues that because of these inconsistencies already inherent in the system, the insanity defense cannot logically be required.

Justice Department Brief Calls for Invalidation of All of Obamacare Without Justification

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on the position in the Department of Justice recently took with respect to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as “Obamacare”), declining to defend any part of the Act in court. Estreicher argues that the DOJ’s position lacks justification and explains the weaknesses of the district court’s reasoning striking down the entire Act.

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

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 Robert A. Fox Leadership Program 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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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