Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the indictment against New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who is accused of accepting bribes to influence foreign relations and other matters. Professor Dorf acknowledges the legal presumption of innocence in a criminal trial setting but argues that due to the ethical responsibility Senators have towards their constituents and the country, they are not entitled to the same presumption in their role, and the weight of the allegations and evidence against Menendez should prompt his resignation or expulsion from the Senate.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat observes that the push for death penalty abolition in the United States faced a year of mixed outcomes in 2023, marked by a rise in executions but also legislative progress in some states like Washington. Professor Sarat observes that states like Alabama and South Carolina are making efforts to proceed with executions using new methods or secured drug supplies, Ohio and Tennessee have shown more cautious or progressive stances, signaling an incremental and complex journey toward abolition.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses a recent legal battle over Texas’s placement of buoys and barriers in the Rio Grande River to deter migrants, a move ruled likely unlawful by Federal District Judge David Ezra. Professor Dorf criticizes Texas’s subsequent emergency stay appeal, argues that the state’s legal justifications are implausible and undermine federal supremacy, and suggests that the state is improperly attempting to sidestep federal authority on issues of national security and immigration.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that while the recent departure of Stanford’s associate dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is noteworthy, the broader issue is the legal status of diversity initiatives following the recent Supreme Court ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. Professor Dorf contends that despite the Court’s skepticism towards race-based affirmative action, DEI offices still have a legitimate role, albeit one that may need to adjust its approaches to promoting diversity and inclusion.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on the Fulton County indictment process involving Donald Trump and 18 others, including Kenneth Chesebro, who allegedly created the “fake elector” scheme. Mr. Aftergut explains the possible strategies by the prosecutor and defense, focusing on how Chesebro’s now-severed trial could pave the way for other prosecutions in the case, and provides insights into the evidence against him, emphasizing that a conviction in his trial could offer momentum for cases against Trump and other defendants.
erst professor Austin Sarat comments on the case of Gerald Pizzuto, whom the state of Idaho has sought to execute by lethal injection five times since his 1986 conviction for first-degree murder. Professor Sarat points out that U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who ruled in Pizzuto’s case, recognized the inherent psychological cruelty of capital punishment, particularly when it involves repeated rescheduling of execution dates.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf responds to a recent Wall Street Journal “puff piece” on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, arguing that, contrary to the op-ed authors’ assertion, Justice Alito’s purported commitment to textualism is disingenuous and that he finds ways (atextually, if needed) to vote consistently for ideologically conservative outcomes. Professor Dorf refutes Justice Alito’s claim that Congress lacks the authority to impose ethical standards on the Supreme Court, pointing out Congress’s historical role in shaping the Court and the existing ethics regulations that apply to the Justices.
In light of recent questions regarding the health of U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), UC Davis law professor Vikram David Amar examines Kentucky’s 2021 statute on filling Senate vacancies, which restricts the governor’s appointment power by requiring a choice from a list provided by the departing senator’s political party. Professor Amar expresses doubt about the law’s constitutionality in light of the Seventeenth Amendment and the historical intent to reduce political party influence in Senate appointments.
UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar comments on the Loper Bright case the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing next term, which provides the opportunity for the Court to revisit (and potentially eliminate) the Chevron deference doctrine. Professor Amar points out and analyzes some of the constitutional issues raised by the doctrine.
Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into the City of Memphis and its police department following the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, which exposed a culture of violence and indifference within the department. While Professor Margulies welcomes this investigation as a step in the right direction, he argues that the Department of Justice lacks the tools and authority to address systemic issues related to policing and public safety in Memphis; ultimately, the solution must come from local initiatives and collaboration within the community.
Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis, in which the Court ostensibly held that a Colorado public accommodations law was unconstitutional as applied to website designer Lorie Smith because it compelled her to create artistic content in violation of her religious beliefs. Professor Margulies argues that the decision has potentially far-reaching implications that could return us to the days of Jim Crow—all because the stipulated facts in that case seemed (to some Justices) to lead to an inescapable result.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Moore v. Harper, in which the Court forcefully repudiated the essence of the so-called “Independent State Legislature” (ISL) theory. Dean Amar describes the apparent evolution of several Justices’ views on ISL theory and explains how that evolution led to the Court’s sound rejection of the theory.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone comment on another free-speech controversy related to a student-invited speaker at the University of Pittsburgh. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone describe the demand letter sent to Pitt officials by the Alliance Defending Freedom and explain why some of their arguments are on solid legal ground while one is tenuous at best.
University of Chicago law professor emeritus Albert W. Alschuler comments on the split between the Third and Eighth Circuits on the question whether some convicted felons have a constitutional right to bear arms. Professor Alschuler describes the two courts’ decisions, as well as the contradictory language from the U.S. Supreme Court, and suggests that the Court is likely to resolve the question in the coming Term.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone comment on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit involving the admissions policy at a school in Virginia. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone argue that while it’s not clear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review this case, the issue the case raises is likely to be one the Court takes up soon.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the so-called “unitary executive theory” and explains why it seems to form the basis for the extreme positions of conservative Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Professor Dorf argues that the conservative Justices may prefer to pursue their ideological goal of undercutting regulation via the dubious unitary executive theory rather than originalism, further undercutting the administrative state.
In this second of a series of columns conducting a postmortem on the debt ceiling crisis, UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan and Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explain why the temporary resolution of the debt ceiling crisis may result in an even higher cost when the issue arises again on January 2, 2025. Professors Buchanan and Dorf argue that the debt ceiling statute can only ever operate as a source of leverage for extortionists or, if neither side blinks, as the means of inflicting terrible damage to the country.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on five stories you might have missed that inspire continued faith in the functioning of our democracy. Mr. Aftergut suggest that when anti-democratic developments occur, citizens in a free society should never underestimate our ability to get things back on track by flexing our collective, pro-democracy muscle.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat points out that when death penalty abolitionists take up the cause of saving the lives of people accused of mass murder, they need also to keep reminding people that, in the many less notorious cases in which the state seeks death as a punishment, the death penalty continues to legitimize vengeance, intensify racial divisions, promise simple solutions to complex problems, and damage our political and legal institutions.
Illinois Law Dean Vikram David Amar critiques a recent decision by a federal district judge in Colorado on free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Dean Amar points out the essential problems with the court’s reasoning and assesses what those errors might mean about the shortcomings of legal education and the legal system.