Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

Untethered Textualism in the Seventh Circuit’s Kleber Ruling on Age Bias in Hiring

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on a recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that purports to interpret the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) based on a textualist approach. Estreicher argues that the interpretation erroneously ignores the clear purpose of ADEA and constitutes a highly abstract interpretive venture that departs significantly from the legislators’ manifest intent.

Should Originalists Enforce Rights More Strictly Against the States Than Against the Federal Government?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf points out that, taken to its logical conclusion, the originalism philosophy espoused by US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should mean that the Constitution places stricter limits on states than it does on the federal government. As Dorf explains, the “original meaning” of the Bill of Rights as it applies to the states should refer to its meaning in 1868 (when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted) rather than 1791 (when the Bill of Rights itself was adopted) because the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Bill of Rights applicable to the states. Dorf describes several key differences between the understanding of the Bill of Rights in 1868 and 1791 and considers whether one of the originalist justices will follow where the logic of their philosophy leads.

A Police Shooting and the Power of Narratives

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes two different narrative lenses through which one could perceive (and interpret) the shooting of an unarmed African American man by a white police officer: the “Blue Lives Matter” narrative and the “Black Lives Matter” narrative. Colb explains how such narratives shape public reactions to such incidents, and she calls upon everyone to pay attention to the facts and feel less wedded to our narratives so that we may be better able to deal with and sometimes even prevent future hardship.

How Much Deference Will be Given to Affirmative Action Plans Fashioned by Students, and to Affirmative Action Plans More Generally? Part Three in a Series on the Challenge to Harvard Law Review’s Diversity Program

In this third and final column in a series about the legal challenge to Harvard Law Review’s diversity program, Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone consider how much deference courts should give to law reviews when they assert diversity as a basis for considering race and gender. Amar and Mazzone anticipate that even in the unlikely event that this lawsuit reaches the Supreme Court, any fundamental changes to existing affirmative action doctrine would likely require the Court to weigh in on multiple cases over an extended period.

Did a Federal District Judge Defy the Supreme Court in Invalidating Male-Only Draft?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by a federal district court judge in Texas declaring unconstitutional the US’s male-only military draft. Dorf points out that the judge’s decision defies the Supreme Court’s admonition that federal court judges should follow even outdated Supreme Court precedents, “leaving to th[at] Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions” and considers whether there is any other reason that admonition should not apply.

What Should the Court Do With That Cross?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a case heard by the US Supreme Court this week raising questions about the Establishment Clause. Griffin summarizes some of the main points of each of the advocates in the case and argues that the Court should provide a clearer standard—a straightforward rule that one religion cannot be preferred to another.

Holy Dictum: Federal Judge Rejects Protection Against Transgender Discrimination in “Elegant Aside”

SMU Dedman School of Law professors Joanna L. Grossman and Grant M. Hayden comment on a concurring opinion by a Fifth Circuit judge that goes well out of its way to make illogical arguments regarding transgender discrimination under Title VII. Grossman and Hayden briefly describe the history of courts’ interpretation of Title VII and explain, point by point, why Judge James Ho’s writing is merely an “op-ed piece masquerading as a concurring opinion.”

How do Grutter and Fisher Bear on the Question Whether Law Reviews Can Take Race and Gender Into Account in Selecting Members (and Also Articles)? Part Two in a Series

Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone continue their discussion of whether law reviews may take race and gender into account in selecting members and articles. In this second of a three-part series of columns, Amar and Mazzone analyze some of the key substantive arguments made by the plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The Heckler’s Veto vs. The Podium Pullback: Why Public Universities Should be Given Room to Craft Data-Informed and Viewpoint-Neutral Policies to Govern Speaker Events

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a challenge presently facing public (and many private) universities: how best to handle student organizations’ invitations of contentious speakers to speak on campus. Amar points out the legal limitations to some proposed solutions and argues that the law should adapt to a changing world to allow universities more options to craft data-informed and viewpoint-neutral policies.

Complicity in Trump’s Bogus Emergency

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency after Congress denied him most of the funding he requested for a border wall. Dorf describes the legal framework that allows the president to do so even in the absence of an emergency and points out that combined actions of Congress, the courts, and the People have created this situation.

Can Law Reviews Take Race and Gender Into Account in Selecting Members (and Also Articles)? Part One in a Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone comment on a legal challenge to the practice by Harvard Law Review of taking into consideration race, gender, and other demographic factors when making membership decisions. Amar and Mazzone highlight some of the hurdles the challenger faces in establishing standing— the right to have the dispute heard in a federal forum.

Justifying External Support for Regime Change in Venezuela

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recognition by the United States and some other constitutional democracies of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader pending new elections. Dorf points out that many countries suffer under incompetent, corrupt, and authoritarian leaders just as Venezuela did under Nicolás Maduro, yet constitutional democracies typically do not rally behind the ouster of those leaders. What makes Maduro’s case different?

Not an Administrative Law Bang but a Whimper

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on Kisor v. Wilkie, a case currently before the US Supreme Court that raises the narrow question whether a court should accept an interpretation by the Department of Veterans Affairs of its own technical regulation but also gets at a broader question of judicial deference more generally. Estreicher argues that when agencies interpret their own regulations, courts should afford those interpretations only Skidmore respect, not the higher Chevron-style deference that has come to be commonplace.

“Implied Consent” and the Fourth Amendment Go To the US Supreme Court

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the US Supreme Court recently agreed to review raising the question whether a state statute may constitutionally conduct a blood test on an unconscious driver suspected of drunk driving under a theory of “implied consent.” Colb explains the meaning of “implied consent”—deceivingly named, for there is no actual consent—and predicts that, consistent with the Court’s recent precedent on a similar issue, the state statute should be struck down.

On Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, New York Moves to Shore Up Reproductive Rights

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signing into law the Reproductive Health Act, which eliminates disparities between the federal constitutional standard and New York’s statutory standard preserving a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. Grossman describes the evolution of abortion rights in the United States and points out that New York’s move to safeguard this right comes at a time when the US Supreme Court might rule to overturn its precedent, and ironically, on the 46th anniversary of the Court’s historic decision in Roe v. Wade.

What the Alabama Confederate Memorial Case Says About Modern Constitutional Doctrine

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why a recent decision by an Alabama trial court was constitutionally misguided while also illustrating some of the prominent and problematic features of modern First Amendment and federalism doctrines. Amar describes the reasoning behind the ruling, points out the flaws in the analysis, and then offers two takeaway points that we might learn from the opinion.

How Should the Law Address Illicit Motives in the Age of Trump?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a case arising from the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire—a case the US Supreme Court had on its calendar for oral arguments until late last week, when the federal district judge issued an opinion and enjoined the government from including the question. Despite the original issue presented in the case (a technical one about the scope of discovery) being made moot by the district court opinion, Dorf discusses the remaining and greater issue of how to discern and address illicit government motives.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan Proves Once Again the Church Will Never Reform Itself without the Law and Civil Society Behind It

Marci A. Hamilton—professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania and founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA—comments on an op-ed by New York City’s Archdiocese’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan that Hamilton characterizes as full of “misstatements and ugly implications.” Hamilton disassembles Dolan’s claims and explains why litigation—not mediation, as Dolan claims—is critically essential for the victims of child sex abuse to access the justice they deserve.

Who’s a Good Boy? US Supreme Court Considers Again Whether Dog Sniffs Are Searches

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case in which the US Supreme Court is considering whether to grant review that presents the question whether police must obtain a search warrant before bringing a trained narcotics dog to sniff at a person’s door for illicit drugs. Colb highlights some of the most interesting arguments on the issue and explains some of the nuances that make a clear answer more elusive in these cases.

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 is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George... 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