Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
Analyzing the Recent Sixth Circuit’s Extension of “Academic Freedom” Protection to a College Teacher Who Refused to Respect Student Gender-Pronoun Preferences

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein comment on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals by the Sixth Circuit holding that the First Amendment protects a college teacher who refused to respect student gender-pronoun preferences. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein argue that the court may have reached the wrong outcome on the facts, and in doing so it unnecessarily decided the extent to which a key Supreme Court case should or should not apply to the public higher education setting.

Could Clarence Thomas Be Right About Twitter?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas in a case in which the Court vacated as moot a federal appeals court ruling that the president cannot block users’ access to his Twitter account. Professor Dorf explains why Justice Thomas’s reasoning is deeply flawed, but he points out that Justice Thomas’s conclusion that the First Amendment might permit Congress to forbid Twitter from moderating content on its site finds unlikely support in arguments historically put forth by progressive politicians and scholars. In their view, very large private actors who exercise power over people’s lives comparable to and sometimes even exceeding that of government should be subject to the same sorts of norms that the Constitution applies to the government.

There Are Many Different Ways to Lose Our Democracy

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan describes the precarious situation of our democracy and notes that there are many necessary conditions for a constitutional republic to continue to operate, and because each is necessary, losing any of them would lead to the whole system crashing down. In this column, Professor Buchanan points out some of the many ways in which our nation could descend into autocracy.

Sidney Powell Files a Brief Embracing Fact-Free Politics

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a brief filed by Donald Trump’s former lawyer Sidney Powell in a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Professor Dorf argues that Powell’s motion to dismiss the case should fail, but he notes that the argument presented in her brief is more subtle than is generally acknowledged.

Reforming Presidential Pardons: Possible and Necessary, but How High a Priority?

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan explains why it is not only possible and necessary to reform the president’s constitutional pardon power, but why doing so should be a high priority. Professor Buchanan argues that preventing future abuses of the pardon is critical to preventing its use as a tool of autocracy.

Constitutional Problems With the Kentucky Proposal (Supported by Mitch McConnell) to Change the Way U.S. Senate Vacancies Are Filled

In this second of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the Kentucky proposal to change the way U.S. Senate vacancies are filled. Dean Amar argues that the Seventeenth Amendment precludes such a proposal, which would allow the state legislature to substantively constrain the governor’s choices in making a temporary appointment.

The Dreadful Failure of Lethal Injection

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—comments on the decomposition of the legal injection paradigm over the past few decades, since it was first adopted in Oklahoma in 1999. Professor Sarat observes the evolution of the procedure over time and points out that none of the changes has resolved lethal injection’s fate or repaired its vexing problems.

The Evangelization of Lawlessness: RFRA Was the First “Big Lie”

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, argues that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was the first “big lie” in that purported to “restore” case law but actually gave religious actors the right to be above the law. Professor Hamilton notes two bills that have been introduced in Congress that would take measures to carve back RFRA’s destructive reach and which would not, contrary to some claims, threaten true religious liberty.

Some Observations on Calls for Senate Reform: Part One of a Two-Part Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers four observations about recent calls for reform of the filibuster device in the U.S. Senate. Dean Amar suggests looking at state experiences with supermajority rules, as well as the Senate’s own recent past, and he considers why senators might be reluctant to eliminate the filibuster. He concludes with a comment on President Joe Biden’s suggestion that the Senate return to the “talking filibuster” and praises a suggestion by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) that the cloture requirement (currently at 60 votes) could be lowered gradually, the longer a measure under consideration is debated.

How Not to Criticize the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf responds to three broad-based objections by Republican opponents to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: (1) that the already-recovering economy doesn’t need stimulus; (2) that many of the Act’s provisions have nothing to do with COVID-19; and (3) that there will be waste, fraud, and abuse. Professor Dorf explains why these objections ring hollow and argues that while the Act is not perfect legislation and will likely face challenges in implementation, it is a much better option than anything Republicans were offering.

The Hidden Ideological Stakes of SCOTUS Patent Case

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf describes the ostensibly complex legal issues presented in United States v. Arthrex, Inc., in which the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument earlier this week, and explains how those issues reflect an ideological divide as to other, more accessible matters. Professor Dorf argues that although many conservatives would like to dismantle the modern administrative state, our complex modern society all but requires these government agencies, so conservatives instead seek to make them politically accountable through a Senate-confirmed officer answerable to the president, furthering the so-called unitary-executive theory of Article II.

It Is Possible and Necessary to Nullify Trump’s Corrupt Pardons (Including Secret Ones)

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan argues that it is not only constitutional but necessary to review and nullify corrupt presidential pardons, including many of those granted by former President Trump. Professor Buchanan debunks the misconception that the presidential pardon power is “unlimited” as journalists have assumed, based on the language and context of the Pardon Clause and that of a seminal Supreme Court case interpreting it.

The Upside-Down Treatment of Religious Exceptions Cases in the Supreme Court

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to reject an emergency application from the State of Alabama to lift a stay on the execution of Willie B. Smith III. Professor Dorf observes the Court’s unusual alignment of votes in the decision and argues that, particularly as reflected by the recent COVID-19 decisions, the liberal and conservative Justices have essentially swapped places from the seminal 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, which established that the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to exceptions from neutral laws of general applicability.

A Whistleblower “Minister” Loses in the Illinois Supreme Court

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court characterizing a “lay principal” at a Catholic school as a “minister” and therefore dismissing her claim under the Illinois Whistleblower Act under the so-called “ministerial exception.” Professor Griffin argues that the ministerial exception gives churches pure religious freedom to dismiss all legal claims against them, rendering them entirely unaccountable for their unlawful actions.

Why the Biden Administration Was Right Earlier This Week to Change Course in the Obamacare Challenge Pending Before the Court

Illinois Law Dean Vikram David Amar comments on an unusual move by the U.S. Solicitor General’s office, sending a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court amending the position of the federal government in a case currently pending before the Court challenging the Affordable Care Act. Dean Amar explains why the arrival of a new administration should generally not trigger such position reversals, but he argues that the unusual circumstances—specifically the “exceptional implausibility” of the government’s prior filings—may justify the government’s action in this instance.

Virginia Delivers a Rebuke to Trump’s Execution Spree and Points to the End of America’s Death Penalty

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—comments on the news that both houses of the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation abolishing the death penalty in that state. Professor Sarat explains why Virginia’s change in policy is so significant: it has executed more people than any other state and is the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to abolish capital punishment.

Who May/Should Preside Over Former President Trump’s Second Impeachment Trial?

Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone argue that the constitutional ambiguity over who may preside over former President Trump’s second impeachment trial supports the conclusion that the Senate should ask Chief Justice John Roberts to preside. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone explain why other people—such as Senate President Pro Tempore, the Vice President, and any other senator—are not ideal options because of real or perceived conflicts.

Impeaching a Former President Is Plainly Constitutional

UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan argues that the text of the Constitution makes clear that Congress has the power to impeach and convict Donald Trump, even though he is no longer President. Buchanan describes the unambiguous textual support for this conclusion, which Buchanan (and others) argue is also amply supported by the Constitution’s purpose, structure, and other interpretive approaches.

Should the Law Prohibit Anti-Fat Discrimination?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explores the problem of fat discrimination and considers what a law of anti-fat discrimination might look like, and why it could be important. Professor Colb explores the similarities and differences between legally protected characteristics and fatness and expresses optimism that a change in law could persuade some individuals to recognize fat people for the colleagues, students, friends, partners, and neighbors that they are.

Obstacles to the Biden Agenda Include Americans’ Belief in Nonsense

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the willingness of Americans to believe lies and misinformation, pointing to confirmation bias and social media bubbles as playing key roles in this problem. Professor Dorf argues that we must render Trumpism beyond the pale, in part by shunning those who spread lies and minimizing opportunities for them to spread dangerous misinformation and incite riots.

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