Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
Another Botched Lethal Injection, Another Official Refusal to Accept Responsibility for Failure in the Execution Process

Amherst professor Austin Sarat examines the recent failed execution attempt of Thomas Eugene Creech in Idaho, highlighting lethal injection’s history of unreliability and the broader context of its use as an execution method in the United States. Professor Sarat argues that systemic issues and denial by state officials perpetuate the cruelty and inefficiency of lethal injections, urging an acknowledgment of its failures and a cessation of its use for capital punishment.

Was the Federal District Court Correct in Dismissing Disney’s Speech-Retaliation Case Against Florida Officials?

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar, Illinois Law professor Jason Mazzone, and Illinois Law’s First Amendment Clinic director Lena Shapiro examine the legal intricacies and constitutional debates surrounding a federal district court’s dismissal of the Disney Corporation’s lawsuit against Florida officials, in which Disney alleges retaliatory action for Disney’s criticism of Florida laws by changing the governance of the land regulating Disney World. The authors highlight the complexity of First Amendment issues involved, the precedent set by prior cases, and the broader implications for speech regulation and governmental retaliation, suggesting areas for deeper academic exploration.

Of Embryos, Elections, and Elephants: Are Rights Always Zero-Sum?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision last week in LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, P.C., in which it equates frozen embryos with “extraeuterine children,” thereby using fetal personhood rhetoric to jeopardize IVF practices. Professor Dorf argues that this reasoning not only undermines prospective parents’ freedoms but also reflects a flawed understanding of rights as zero-sum, contrasting sharply with instances where expanding rights can enhance societal well-being.

Alabama Should Not Be Allowed to Carry Out Another Nitrogen Hypoxia Execution

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on a lawsuit filed by David Phillip Wilson, currently on Alabama’s death row for a 2004 murder, claiming that Alabama’s plan to execute him by nitrogen gas violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Professor Sarat notes the state’s problematic history with gas executions and the recent painful, 22-minute execution of Kenneth Smith by nitrogen gas, and argues that Wilson’s lawsuit makes a compelling case that nitrogen hypoxia presents a substantial risk of severe pain and suffering.

Trump Lawyer Reads the Constitution Like a Secret Code Requiring Decryption

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments in Trump v. Anderson, in which the Justices seemed inclined to overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision that disqualified Donald Trump from the state’s Republican primary under the Fourteenth Amendment for “engaging in insurrection.” Professor Dorf points out that the Justices’ questioning revealed a spectrum of potential rationales, from concerns over political retribution and the historical interpretation of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to structural arguments about federal versus state authority in determining a candidate’s eligibility for the presidency.

The Supreme Court’s Oral Argument in Trump v. Anderson: The Court’s Seeming Failure to Understand Some Basic Starting Points

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar expresses concern over the quality of the Supreme Court’s oral argument in Trump v. Anderson, suggesting that the Justices’ questions failed to adequately address the complexities of the case and the constitutional principles at stake, particularly regarding the electoral college and interstate federalism. Professor Amar critiques the Court’s understanding of the electoral college system, arguing that the Justices’ apprehensions about the potential consequences of their decision overlook the inherent flexibility states have in appointing electors—a flexibility underscored by originalist constitutional interpretations and past precedents.

Look Away: How the Supreme Court Could Set Aside Trump’s Disqualification for Insurrection under the Fourteenth Amendment

Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should uphold the decisions of the Colorado and Maine courts that disqualified Donald Trump from running for President under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment based on his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Mr. Falvy identifies several ways that the Court could rationalize putting Trump back on the ballot and explains the legal and consequential problems with each. In particular, Mr. Falvy criticizes the superficially appealing “let the people decide” line of thought, pointing out that it is actually highly undemocratic and dangerous; indeed, such dictators as Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in France, Adolf Hitler in Germany, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, each launched a failed coup d’état, endured a short stint in jail, and returned to win power through elections.

Why a Recent Federal Lawsuit Filed by Republican Party Officials Challenging Mississippi’s Approach to Counting Ballots in Federal Elections Lacks Any Significant Chance of Success

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar and Illinois Law professor Jason Mazzone comment on a federal lawsuit filed by the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Mississippi, among others, challenging Mississippi’s law that counts mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day but received within five business days thereafter for federal elections. Professors Amar and Mazzone argue that this lawsuit is unlikely to succeed due to the implausibility of its legal theory, highlighting the distinction between the act of voting and the counting of votes, and underscoring the constitutional and statutory framework that grants states broad leeway in election administration, including the acceptance of mail-in ballots.

Should Death Penalty Abolitionists Try to Make the Death Penalty More Humane?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the recent execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama, questioning the humanity of this method and comparing it unfavorably to other methods like lethal injection and electrocution. Professor Dorf delves into the complexities of the death penalty, including the constitutional implications, the effectiveness of alternative execution methods, and the ethical dilemmas facing death penalty abolitionists and pharmaceutical companies regarding the provision of more humane execution drugs.

Has the Justice Department Just Issued a Warning to the CIA?

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies reflects on the Department of Justice’s recent indictment of four Russian officers for torturing an American in Ukraine, interpreting it as a significant legal and moral statement against torture. Professor Margulies speculates whether this action represents a broader condemnation of torture or a narrower stance against torture when Americans are victims, contrasting it with the U.S.’s own history of torture post-9/11.

Another New Execution Method, Another Botched Execution

Amherst professor Austin Sarat laments the continued occurrence of botched executions in the United States, focusing on the recent introduction of nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama, which resulted in another failed attempt. Professor Sarat describes the disturbing details of Kenneth Smith’s execution, where the promise of a quick and painless death by nitrogen hypoxia was broken, leading to a prolonged and torturous process, thus adding to the history of failed executions with new methods in the United States.

Rebel Yell: Why a Civil War Amendment Has Donald Trump Fighting to Keep His Name on the Presidential Ballot

Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, examines the constitutional and political implications of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that disqualified Donald Trump from running for president in 2024, based on his involvement in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Mr. Falvy discusses the legal and factual issues that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to resolve in the case, and the potential impact of its decision on the country's future.

The Supreme Court Should Use the Richard Glossip Case To Say That the Constitution Forbids Executing the Innocent

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that the Supreme Court should use the case of Richard Glossip, a death row inmate who claims actual innocence, to declare that the Constitution forbids executing the innocent. Professor Sarat points out the various procedural problems and prosecutorial misconduct in Glossip’s case, as well as the Supreme Court’s precedents on actual innocence claims—which support his argument for addressing this fundamental issue of justice.

The Supreme Court Gets a New Opportunity to Oppose Racism in America’s Death Penalty

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should grant review in Warren King’s death penalty case, which epitomizes the persistent racial biases in jury selection, especially in death penalty cases. Professor Sarat emphasizes the significance of the Batson v. Kentucky decision against race-based juror exclusion, critiques its inadequate enforcement, and argues that King’s case, marked by discriminatory jury selection, offers the Court a crucial opportunity to reinforce Batson and address racial prejudice in the legal system.

Trump and House Republicans’ Heads-I-Win-Tails-You-Lose View of Impeachment

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses Republicans’ political manipulation of the impeachment process, particularly in the context of Donald Trump’s flawed immunity claims and House Republicans’ baseless impeachment investigations against President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Professor Dorf emphasizes that impeachment should be grounded in actual high crimes and misdemeanors, not political disagreements or policy choices.

Massachusetts Supreme Court Takes an Important Step in the Battle to End Life Without Parole Sentences

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the movement against life without parole (LWOP) sentences in the United States, highlighting its flaws similar to those in the death penalty system, including racial disparities and the finality of judgment. Professor Sarat commends the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s recent ruling against LWOP for offenders under 21, signaling a significant step towards reevaluating and potentially ending LWOP sentences, paralleling efforts against capital punishment.

The Incredible, Inconsistent, Incoherent Legal Arguments About Presidential Immunity Made by Donald Trump’s Lawyer

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that in Tuesday’s oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Donald Trump’s lawyer, John Sauer, contorted the Constitution’s language to claim presidents have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts, despite Trump’s impeachment lawyers previously stating presidents could face prosecution once leaving office. Professor Sarat points out that the appeals court judges appeared unconvinced by Sauer’s arguments, questioning how his broad immunity claim aligns with constitutional checks on presidential power.

Reflections on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Recent Invalidation of Non-Contiguous State Legislative District Lines, With Special Attention to the Ruling’s Relevance, If Any, to the Independent State Legislature Theory

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar comments on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent decision invalidating the state’s legislative district lines based on its finding that they were unconstitutional due to non-contiguous territories, a decision criticized by conservatives as partisan. Professor Amar points out that this ruling, focused only on state legislative districts, does not directly implicate the “Independent State Legislature” theory discussed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Moore v. Harper case, as it pertains to state, not federal, elections. Furthermore, Professor Amar argues that the decision’s compliance with straightforward state constitutional text suggests federal courts are unlikely to find it violates due process or republican government principles, illustrating the limited role of federal oversight in state court interpretations of state law post-Moore.

This Is a Good Time to Revisit Mitch McConnell’s Jurisprudence and Thoughts About Presidential Immunity

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses how Special Counsel Jack Smith’s recent filing regarding Donald Trump’s claim of presidential immunity is grounded in arguments previously made by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. McConnell, on the Senate floor in 2021, recognized Trump’s moral and practical responsibility for the January 6 events, pointed out that impeachment is not the only avenue for accountability, and acknowledged that Trump, as a private citizen, could be subject to criminal and civil litigation for his actions while in office.

The Road Not Taken: In 2023 Two Death Penalty States Offer Americans a Clear Choice

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the divergent paths of Florida and Ohio with respect to capital punishment in those states. Professor Sarat argues that it is time for America to make up its mind on the death penalty and either follow Ohio’s path toward a future without capital punishment, bringing this country into line with the community of nations, or else follow Florida’s example by expanding death sentences and executions.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... 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

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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