Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
Religious Entities Flex Their Muscles Through the Roberts Court, Playing Both Sides of the Discrimination Coin

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, describe how legal entities wielded their religious identity as both a shield and a sword last term before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hamilton points out that religious entities won key cases that allow them to receive from government funding while enjoying exemptions from neutral generally applicable non-discrimination laws.

Barr’s Testimony Is the Latest Example of the Trump Administration’s War on Congressional Oversight

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on Attorney General William Barr’s appearance last week before the House Judiciary Committee. Sarat argues that Barr’s testimony exemplifies the Trump administration’s defiance of the constitutional principle of congressional oversight.

Narrow Debate About the Death Penalty

In light of the federal government’s resumption of executions, Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some of the common arguments of proponents and opponents of capital punishment. Colb observes that many of the moral arguments are based on a consequentialist perspective and suggests that a deontological perspective might lead to novel arguments and considerations about the death penalty.

The Selfie Coup: How to Tell If Your Government Is Plotting to Overthrow Itself

Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, describes how to tell whether a government is plotting to overthrow itself—a phenomenon he calles a “Selfie Coup.” Falvy explains the difference between a Selfie Coup and creeping authoritarianism by providing examples of both and argues that the more aware civil society is of the possibility of a Selfie Coup, the more likely it can prepare its defenses in time to prevent it.

Impoverishing Women: Supreme Court Upholds Trump Administration’s Religious and Moral Exemptions to Contraceptive Mandate

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Trump administration’s religious and moral exemptions to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Grossman provides a brief history of the conflict over the growing politicization of contraception in the United States and argues that the exemptions at issue in this case should never have been promulgated in the first place because they have no support in science or public policy.

The Ministerial Exception Allows Racial Discrimination by Religions

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin describes the ministerial exception—a First Amendment rule created by courts that bars the application of anti-discrimination laws to religious organizations’ employment relationships with its “ministers”—and enumerates some of the cases in which the exception led to dismissal of a lawsuit. Griffin argues that we as a society cannot achieve full justice as long as courts interpret religious freedom to include a ministerial exception that condones racial discrimination lawsuits.

What Happened in Kahler v. Kansas?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes how the U.S. Supreme Court purported to allow the state of Kansas to substitute one insanity defense for another, but in fact approved its abolishment of the insanity defense altogether. Colb explains the difference between the insanity defense—an affirmative defense to the commission of a crime—and facts that negate mens rea—the mental element of a crime. Colb also notes how in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer made a case for veganism, albeit probably inadvertently.

A Backward- and Forward-Looking Assessment of the Supreme Court’s “Faithless Elector” Cases: Part One in a Two-Part Series

In this first of a two-part series of columns about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the “faithless elector” cases, Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar expresses disappointment that the majority opinion—authored by Justice Elena Kagan—and concurring opinion—by Justice Clarence Thomas—are not as well reasoned or careful as they could be. Amar points out some of the ways in which the opinions fall short, noting some of the arguments that merited more discussion, or at least more thorough consideration.

Women Lose at the Court

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on three recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in which religion has won, at the expense of women. Griffin explains why the Court’s decisions in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (and the consolidated case, St. James School v. Biel), Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania (and the consolidated case, Trump v. Pennsylvania), and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue together amount to sanctioned and government-funded discrimination masquerading as religious freedom.

Trump Turns History Into a Culture War Battlefield

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on President Trump’s Fourth of July speeches, in which the President described a nation at war with itself and its legacy. Sarat points out the irony of Trump accusing others of lying about or attempting to erase the past, and he notes that Trump’s own distortion of historical facts is a tactic that authoritarian, fascist, and totalitarian regimes have used in the past to legitimize the regime or erase inconvenient truths.

Upcoming Execution Tests Trump Administration’s Commitment to Religious Liberty

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on a religious liberty issue presented by the upcoming execution of Wesley Ira Purkey. Sarat explains that Purkey’s spiritual advisor is unable to attend Purkey’s execution due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he points out that for the federal government to carry out the execution anyway would belie its purported commitment to religious liberty.

Reflections on the Movement in California to Repeal the State’s Ban on Affirmative Action

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers three observations on a measure recently approved by the California legislature that would, if approved by the voters, repeal Proposition 209, the voter initiative that has prohibited affirmative action by the state and its subdivisions since its passage in 1996. Amar praises the California legislature for seeking to repeal Prop 209 and for seeking to do so using the proper procedures, and he suggests that if Prop 209 is repealed, legal rationales for the use of race should be based not only on the value of diversity (as they have been for some time now), but also on the need to remedy past wrongs against Black Americans.

Should Acquittals Require Unanimity?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the policy question of whether, since the Constitution requires jury unanimity to convict a defendant of a serious crime, states should require a unanimous verdict to acquit a defendant, as well. Colb describes the reasons behind jury unanimity convictions and assesses whether they apply similarly to acquittals.

Notes on an Oral Argument: The Questions Asked, the Answers Given, and What They May Augur for the Supreme Court’s Decision in the Congressional Subpoena Cases

Touro law professor Rodger D. Citron analyzes the oral arguments in the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding demands for President Trump’s financial records. Citron explains why it seems likely that the Court will reverse the lower courts’ decisions refusing to quash the House committee subpoenas and offers a number of observations based on his review of the transcript.

The “When” of Chevron: The Missed Opportunity of County of Maui

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and rising 3L Daniel Folsom comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, in which the Court interpreted a provision of the Clean Water. Estreicher and Folsom argue that the case presented an opportunity to clarify the murky question of when the Chevron doctrine applies, yet the Court avoided answering that question.

How the President and Attorney General Could Have Avoided the Geoffrey Berman Debacle

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the recent dispute over the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and explains what President Trump and Attorney General Barr could have done to avoid the problem altogether. Amar describes a process that, if followed, could have allowed the administration to appoint their first-choice candidate without causing the controversy in which it now finds itself.

William Barr Has Made the Federal Death Penalty a Weapon in Trump’s Campaign Arsenal

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on Attorney General William Barr’s recent order to resume federal executions and the political implications of that order. Sarat briefly describes the history of the federal death penalty in the United States and explains that, regardless of what state we live in, when the federal government puts someone to death, it does so in all of our names.

Gay Pride, Gay Rights

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah L. Brake comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Grossman and Brake discuss the history of court decisions interpreting the meaning of “because of sex” under Title VII and describe the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Bostock v. Clayton County.

Mr. Dooley Meets Mr. Justice Gorsuch: Will the Election Returns Follow the Supreme Court?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses a claim by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley that the purpose of originalism and textualism is to provide a mechanism for obtaining results that religious conservatives favor on ideological grounds. In light of two recent Supreme Court decisions that disappointed conservatives, Dorf considers how conservatives might respond to these decisions and expresses hope that they might rethink their support for Trump. Dorf observes that while Supreme Court rulings do sometimes follow election returns, the reverse is also sometimes true, and we can’t yet know which direction this year will flow.

Home Invasion: Warrantless Searches in Brazil and the United States

Igor De Lazari, a Brazilian legal scholar, and Antonio Sepulveda, Professor of Law at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) and at the Fluminense Federal University, offer a comparative analysis of warrantless searches in Brazil and the United States. De Lazari and Sepulveda call for guidance from each country’s high court to help clarify the law and facilitate uniform and predictable rulings on the constitutionality of certain warrantless searches.

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

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is the Dwight D. Opperman Professor, Director, Center for Labor and Employment... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... 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 Fels Institute of Government 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

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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