Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
Whatever Andrew Wheeler’s True Motives, He Deserves Praise for Moving EPA Away from Animal Testing

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a memorandum recently issued by Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that announced directives to substantially reduce government funding for and mandating of animal testing of chemicals to which humans might be exposed. Dorf acknowledges that Wheeler’s motivation might be the deregulation of industries that produce chemical products (a legitimate concern expressed by some public health and environmental groups), but Dorf argues that the policy is win-win-win: better for the animals spared experimentation; less costly to the public fisc; and better for human health.

North Carolina Three-Judge Panel Smartly Uses the Room the U.S. Supreme Court in Rucho v. Common Cause Left for State Courts to Enforce State Constitutions

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a recent decision by a panel of state-court judges in North Carolina striking down partisan gerrymandering schemes as violating that state’s constitution. Amar had argued after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rucho v. Common Cause that state courts would have to address partisan gerrymandering on “independent and adequate state-law grounds” (rather than on federal constitutional grounds), which is exactly what the North Carolina court did.

When Friends Preside Over Weddings: Tennessee Fights the Online Ministers

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a law recently passed (and challenged) in Tennessee that purports to prohibit ministers ordained online from presiding over marriages in that state. Grossman explains why the Tennessee legislature passed the law and why it is being challenged, and she points out that based on the judge’s questions during the proceedings, the state may ultimately have to show at trial how the law is rationally related to its legitimate regulation of entry into marriage—regardless of whether it burdens the free exercise of religion.

Three Observations About the (Limited) Impact of the Tenth Circuit’s Recent Decision (in Baca v. Colorado Department of State) Concerning “Faithless” Electors in the Electoral College

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers three key observations about a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit concerning “faithless” electors in the Electoral College. Specifically, Amar explains why the potential impact of the decision on the National Popular Vote movement is most likely limited, not extensive.

Is Physical Liberty an Important Right?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued toward the end of the last term, in which a majority of the Court ruled that as long as police have probable cause for an arrest, it does not matter if their actual motivation for arresting someone violates the person’s First Amendment rights. Colb considers whether such pretextual, speech-based arrests are a problem, how they differ from other pretextual arrests, and how the ruling in this case resembles the law of a seemingly different area—post-conviction incarceration for convicted criminals.

Let’s Restore the Public Good to a Place of Honor and End Vaccination Exemptions Other Than Those Absolutely Necessary

Marci A. Hamilton, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, calls for an end to legislative exemptions to mandatory childhood vaccinations, except those that are absolutely necessary. Hamilton explains why these exemptions undermine the public good and endanger children.

The Fifth Circuit Pushes Pre-Enforcement Review Too Far in Barring the EEOC from Publishing Guidance on Title VII’s Regulation of Ex-Convict Employment Bars

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in which that court enjoined the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from publishing its guidance on the applicability of Title VII’s disparate impact analysis to employers’ use of criminal records in hiring decisions. Estreicher explains why the federal appeals court was incorrect in holding that the EEOC violated the notice-and-comment procedures for rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act.

Why Challenges to California’s Tax-Return-Disclosure Law Should Fail (Putting Aside Whether They Will)

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the Trump administration’s recent legal challenge to California’s law that denies ballot access to presidential candidates who have chosen not to release their tax returns. Without opining as to whether that challenge is likely to succeed or whether it is a good idea for states to enact such laws, Amar explains why, as a normative matter, the arguments in favor of striking down the law are misplaced, or at the very least, overly simplistic.

Exploring Cy Pres, Restorative Justice, and Earned Redemption through Fleabag: Part II in a Series

In this second of a series of columns, Illinois law professors Lesley Wexler, Jennifer Robbennolt, and Jennie Pahre continue their discussion of the legal mechanism of cy pres—by which a court decides a remedy based on how closely it serves the intended purpose (originally from the law of trusts). The authors draw upon the plot and characters of the television show Fleabag to illustrate how restorative justice might help re-center the #MeToo debate away from its seemingly sole punitive focus and more towards the twin purposes of victim restoration and deterrence.

You’re So Vague, You Probably Think This Law’s Not About You

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers when the void-for-vagueness doctrine, which has a due process component, does and does not make sense. Colb argues that differences in the length of a criminal sentence have little or no deterrence effect, so imposing long sentences as an attempt to deter crimes is a waste of resources.

Justice O’Connor Deserves Better Than Her Brethren Gave Her 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—discusses how the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion in American Legion v. American Humanist Association rejects without giving proper respect to the “endorsement test” that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor first championed as a way of maintaining separation between church and state. Hamilton argues that the endorsement test was the right test at the right time in history and that the majority in American Legion attempted to erase Justice O’Connor’s contribution to the Court’s Establishment Clause doctrine.

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.

Big Little Truths About the 2018-19 Supreme Court Term

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar reflects on the decisions the U.S. Supreme Court issued at the end of its 2018–19 term. Amar observes three key trends at the Court: its focus on what constitutes improper government motive, concerns over broad congressional delegation to the executive, and tension over the meaning and theory of stare decisis.

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.

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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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