Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority Issues Another Atextual Ruling in a Sovereign Immunity Case

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, in which the conservative majority departed sharply from the brand of originalism that Justice Clarence Thomas (who authored the opinion) and his fellow conservatives purport to favor. Dorf points out the inconsistency of the Court’s conservative bloc criticizing liberal-leaning doctrine based on broad text in rights cases while simultaneously (as here) fashioning right-leaning doctrine from the murky materials of structure and history rather than text.

A Welcome Turn to Violence

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes several refreshing perspectives in the area of criminal justice reform that tackle the crucial and difficult issue of violent crime. By way of background, Margulies explains the simplistic and erroneous idea that drives the enormous (and enormously expensive) carceral state and explains the importance of recognizing humanity in order to begin to dismantle it.

Exactly What Are the Rules Concerning Supreme (or Other Federal) Court Review of Impeachment Proceedings?

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on President Trump’s recent tweet suggesting that if the Democrats were to try to impeach him, he would ask the Supreme Court to block the impeachment. Amar argues that while critics of that assertion are correct, the legal matter is more complicated than might appear at first blush.

Should Police Need a Search Warrant to Chalk Tires and Discover Illegal Parking?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit holding unconstitutional the use of chalk by police officers to track whether a parked car has remained longer than permissible. Colb considers whether the decision—which seems to faithfully apply the US Supreme Court’s decisions in Jones v. United States and Florida v. Jardines—falls short of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test the Court established in Katz v. United States. Colb proposes a test that instead combines trespass, information-gathering, as well as some privacy interest in that information, arguing that such a test would better reflect the scope of the Fourth Amendment.

SCOTUS LGBT Discrimination Case Will Test Conservative Commitment to Textualism

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on three cases in which the US Supreme Court recently granted review that together present the question whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Dorf points out that the cases pose a test for the Court’s conservative majority—whether they will keep faith with their textualist commitment and rule for the plaintiffs or instead follow their conservative social views and rule for the defendant employers.

Why Settled Precedent Prevents President Trump From Punishing Sanctuary Cities For Declining to Assist in Federal Immigration Policy

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why President Trump’s proposal that detained immigrants be relocated to sanctuary cities violates the Supreme Court’s precedent interpreting relevant constitutional provisions. Amar argues that even a conservative Supreme Court that defers to the Executive branch in matters of foreign affairs would likely not permit such action.

Clarence Thomas Speaks—And Arguably Contradicts His Longstanding Views

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the question Justice Clarence Thomas asked during oral argument in Flowers v. Mississippi potentially reflects a view inconsistent with one he and other conservative justices have strongly endorsed in the past. Dorf points out that Justice Thomas’s question, regarding the race of jurors struck by the defense counsel, suggests that discrimination against one group can cancel out discrimination against another, which is directly at odds with his expressed view that the Constitution forbids all government consideration of race.

Supreme Court Takes a Case About Jury Unanimity

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case in which the US Supreme Court recently granted review, Ramos v. Louisiana, which presents the question whether states may permit conviction of an accused criminal on less than a unanimous jury voting “guilty.” Colb explains the doctrine of incorporation—by which most provisions of the Bill of Rights are held to be applicable as against the states as well as the federal government through the Fourteenth Amendment—and explains the possible significance of a unanimous jury verdict.

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.

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