Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
Is Mississippi’s Distinctive Method of Electing Governors Constitutional? Part One in a Two-Part Series

In this first of a two-part series of columns, Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone consider whether Mississippi’s method of electing its governor—requiring a successful candidate to win both a majority of the state house of representatives and a majority of districts—is constitutional. Amar and Mazzone describe some of the important issues the case raises under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

The Argentine Election and the Limits of the Peter Principle

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on Argentina’s national elections last month, in which the country elected as Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who had previously served as President of Argentina from 2007 to 2015. Dorf considers why Kirchner, and indeed anyone, would accept a lower position than what she has previously held. Dorf argues that due to the Peter Principle—which states that workers in a hierarchical organization tend to rise to their level of incompetence—we would do well as a society to abandon the whole concept of a demotion.

“She Slept Her Way to the Top”: The Fourth Circuit Pushes Back on a Harmful Gender Stereotype

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that spreading a false rumor that a woman “slept her way to the top” constitutes sex discrimination. Grossman points out that this case raises yet another example of the many ways in which working women do not compete on an equal playing field.

The Constitutional Permissibility (Under the First Amendment) of Public School District Zero-Tolerance Policies on Racial Epithets

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses a recent controversy involving the termination of a Wisconsin public school security guard under a zero-tolerance policy on racial epithets. Amar explains why, if the guard had chosen to sue, he likely would have lost in court based on current precedent, and Amar uses the apparent injustice of that outcome to illustrate that public employees often don’t realize how much their speech can be proscribed and prescribed by their government employers.

What Insanity and Animal Welfare Have in Common

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb why the question whether a state may abolish the insanity defense (presently before the Supreme Court) is similar to the question whether a state should adopt so-called animal welfare laws. Colb argues that both the insanity defense and animal welfare measures provide the public with a sense of moral relief but only if we willfully ignore the reality of how animals and criminal defendants are treated.

The Pregnant Pause: Placing Elizabeth Warren’s Experience of Pregnancy Discrimination in Historical Context

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the recent revelation by Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren that she experienced pregnancy discrimination in 1971. Grossman points out that if we as a society are skeptical that pregnancy discrimination was commonplace in 1971, before it became unlawful, then it must be even harder for some to believe that women continue to experience discrimination today.

The Voters’ One True Power and Impeachment

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the present allegations against President Trump require representatives and senators to act in the interest of the voters and seek the truth. Hamilton explains that the checks and balances our Constitution’s framers put in place were designed for this very type of situation, and the power to impeach serves a vital role of protecting the people.

Decoupling Determinations of Sexual Misconduct from Title IX: UIUC #MeToo Reform

Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler comments on a recent report on Faculty Sexual Misconduct issued by a committee at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that calls for a sweeping overhaul of the University’s approach to sexual harassment. Wexler begins to explore the proposed reforms, describing the major changes and what they aim to address, and she raises some of the questions that the reforms present.

A Tale of Two Nixons: Executive Branch Officials Must Comply with House Subpoenas

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why U.S. Supreme Court cases—confusingly, Nixon v. United States and United States v. Nixon—together should foreclose any legal arguments that might have supported President Trump’s strategy to fight impeachment. Dorf explains each of the precedents and their bearing on today’s situation.

An Analysis of the District Court Ruling Blocking California’s Law Requiring Tax-Return Disclosure in Presidential and Gubernatorial Elections

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a recent decision by a federal district court judge blocking implementation of California’s law that would deny ballot access to presidential candidates who have not released their tax returns. Amar explains why the decision is likely to be overturned on appeal, and, if it were to go that far, why there is a good chance even a majority of the current U.S. Supreme Court would also agree the decision was incorrect.

When Criminal Defendants Tell You Who They Are

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the rationale behind Federal Rule of Evidence 609, which allows for impeachment of criminal defendants’ testimony with prior convictions, and the seminal cases applying that rule. Colb explains why the jury’s reaction to evidence of prior convictions is both predictable and irrational.

When is it Constitutionally Problematic for Government to Ask Questions about the Race of Individuals? A Dialogue Between Two Constitutional Law Scholars

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone engage in a dialogue over when it is constitutionally permissible (and problematic) for the state to require that individuals identify their race on a government form. Their dialogue arises from a lawsuit in Virginia challenging that state’s law (which has since been amended) that required individuals to disclose their race on a marriage license application form.

Is Actual Control Required for an Employer-Employee Relationship? The Case Law Suggests Otherwise

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and 3L Sara Spaur argue that the premise of a recent National Labor Relations Board proposed rulemaking—that an employer must exercise direct and immediate control over employees to be a joint employer under the National Labor Relations Act—is not supported by the common law, as is required. Estreicher and Spaur explain that the Restatements of Agency and four key cases support the opposite conclusion, that the test for employer status is not actual control, but simply the right to control employees.

Toxic Religious Liberty: President Trump Takes the Conservative Religious Agenda to the International Stage

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, comments on President Trump's recent visit speech at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom that promotes his administration's brand of religious liberty. Hamilton argues that Trump is leading the nation toward toxic religious liberty that our nations framers—and particularly James Madison—warned against and attempted to prevent.

How to Detect a Liar

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to a colleague’s claim (yet unconfirmed) that jurors have an easier time distinguishing truth from falsehood when they read a transcript of testimony than when they listen to and watch the testimony directly. Assuming the claim is true, Colb describes why that claim might at first be surprising and also why, on further consideration, it makes sense. She proposes that if the claim is true, we ought perhaps to consider whether the distractors inherent in live testimony should excludable under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

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.

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