Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

Run, Baby, Run: Federal Court (Correctly) Sends Pregnancy Discrimination Case to Trial

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman praises a recent decision by a federal district court allowing a claim of pregnancy discrimination to go to trial and denying the employer’s motion for summary judgment. Grossman describes the factual and legal background of the case and explains how the court used two methods to find that the case should go to trial on the merits.

Why Facebook’s Hate-Speech Policy Makes So Little Sense

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on Facebook’s global efforts to block hate speech and other offensive content and explains why formula-based policy necessarily makes very little sense. As Dorf explains, accurate determinations of hate speech require cultural understanding and evaluations of cases on an individual basis, but this approach also necessarily injects individual bias into those decisions. Thus, Facebook’s policy, while not ideal, may be but one of a handful of inadequate options.

2018 Year in Review: Child Sex Abuse Statutes of Limitations, and the Catholic Bishops’ Spiritual Retreat

Marci A. Hamilton—the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania—comments on the progress (and lack thereof) of legislation in 2018 affecting child sex abuse victims’ access to justice across the United States. In particular, Hamilton calls upon American bishops to start advocating for, rather than against, the victims of abuse.

Federal Lawsuit Tests Constitutionality of Arizona Statute for Filling US Senate Vacancy Created by John McCain’s Death: Part One in a Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a lawsuit filed in federal court in Arizona that challenges the way state officials are handling the vacancy in the US Senate created by Senator John McCain’s death four months ago. Amar explains the basis of the lawsuit and discusses the sparse case law on point that may determine the outcome of the lawsuit.

Obamacare Nonseverability Ruling Exposes Uncertainty in our Conception of Law

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent ruling by a federal district judge in Texas striking down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act and argues that the judge relies on a highly unorthodox (and erroneous) interpretation of the doctrine of “severability.” As Dorf explains, there is a notable lack of judicial consensus as to what courts actually do when they declare laws unconstitutional, despite that the Supreme Court established its power of judicial review over two centuries ago in Marbury v. Madison (1803).

What Would a New Constitutional Convention Look Like? Two Dozen Unanswered Yet Crucial Questions

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses the possibility of a federal constitutional convention to propose fundamental revisions to the document. Amar points out that many fundamental legal questions about such a convention remain unanswered and highlights 24 important questions that will need to be considered if a constitutional convention seems imminent.

Double Jeopardy Case in Supreme Court is About More than Trump

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the double jeopardy question raised in Gamble v. United States, in which the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week, and explains how the extraordinary nature of the Trump presidency should inform judicial decision making. Building upon a point made in a 1985 Columbia Law Review article by Professor Vincent Blasi, Dorf argues that judges construing the Constitution and other legal texts in perilous times such as these should keep in mind that the rules they adopt will also operate in normal times.

Assessing the Challenge to Maine’s Ranked-Choice Voting System for Congressional Elections

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses a legal challenge to Maine’s Ranked-Choice Voting system, filed by a Republican incumbent and three Republican Maine voters following the November 2018 mid-term election. Amar breaks down the crux of the lawsuit while also unpacking the logistics of a rank order voting system like Maine’s. Providing examples of how rank order voting could work in presidential elections, Amar uses illustrations of past election results to highlight how their outcome might have differed under such a voting system while addressing such a system's limitations.

A Sharp Backward Turn: Department of Education Proposes to Protect Schools, Not Students, in Cases of Sexual Violence

In this second of a two-part series, SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah L. Brake revisit Title IX and the Department of Education’s proposal to rework how sexual assault and harassment claims are addressed by educational institutions that receive federal funds. Grossman and Brake argue that the Department’s proposed changes will ultimately result in a chilling effect on victims of sexual harassment coming forward and reporting their abuse.

The Department of Education’s Title IX Power Grab

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the Department of Education’s recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking rules requiring due process protections for those accused of sexual assault or harassment in Title IX cases. Dorf provides a history of Title IX, explaining how the Obama administration issued guidance and instituted reforms to how institutions should approach addressing allegations of such conduct. He acknowledges the Department of Education's shift in policy under the Trump administration that led to its proposed rulemaking issuance, and argues that the Department only has the authority to permit these additional due process protections in most instances, rather than outright require institutions to adhere to them.

A Sharp Backward Turn: Department of Education Proposes to Undermine Protections for Students Against Sexual Harassment and Assault

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah L. Brake discuss a proposal by the Department of Education that would roll back Obama-era guidance on how claims of sexual assault and harassment are handled by educational institutions that receive federal funding. In part one of this two-part series, Grossman and Brake provide historical background on Title IX, explain regulations implemented during the Obama administration, and touch on how the Trump administration’s rollback may affect student victims of sexual assault and harassment.

Rape and Confessions

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains how a better understanding of consent in a police interrogation context can inform our understanding of consent in a sexual context. Colb argues that the solution to both is to educate everyone more effectively about what will and will not successfully make things (the interrogation or the sexual activity) stop.

Why California Cannot Dictate to Whom the Federal Government Sells Federal Lands

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why a federal district court was correct in ruling that a California law that seeks to discourage the transfer of federal lands to private parties violates principles of federal supremacy under the Constitution. Amar addresses the two arguments California made in defense of the law and points out that under long-standing precedent, states cannot single out federal entities for discriminatory regulatory treatment.

How Bad Will Things Become? Part Seven: Goodbye, New Deal and Great Society?

GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan continues his series of columns considering how much damage the US Supreme Court will inflict after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Drawing upon the nation’s experience with a conservative Court during the Lochner era, Buchanan predicts that one of the most consequential results of Republicans’ theft of a Supreme Court seat could be to seriously undermine one or more of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Tension Between the Vatican and American Bishops Over Next Steps in the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis: Could We See the Beginning of a Schism?

Marci A. Hamilton—the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania—describes the growing tension between the Vatican and American Bishops with respect to clergy sex abuse and considers whether a schism might be imminent. Hamilton refers to and draws upon a column she wrote in 2002, in which she argued that disagreement between American bishops and the Vatican over the correct path for dealing with clergy sex abuse was foreordained.

Part Three on California’s Mandate That Women Be Placed on Corporate Boards: Dormant Commerce Clause and Improper Government Purpose Questions

Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone continue their commentary on California’s mandate that women be placed on corporate boards. In this third of a series of columns on the topic, Amar and Mazzone consider whether SB 826 violates the Commerce Clause and whether there are constitutional issues with the state’s use of the law merely to make a political statement.

Is California’s Mandate That Public Companies Include Women on Their Boards of Directors Constitutional? Part Two

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone continue their discussion of the constitutionality of California’s law requiring that publicly held corporations have a minimum number of women on their boards of directors. In this second of a series of columns, Amar and Mazzone consider whether California’s ostensible reasons for enacting and implementing SB826 are permissible and “important”—the standard required under federal intermediate equal protection scrutiny.

Trump’s—and the GOP’s—Hat Trick of Falsehoods About Pre-Existing Conditions

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf debunks President Trump’s claim that he has kept his campaign promise to “protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions.” Dorf provides three primary reasons that the claim is dishonest: the administration’s position in a pending lawsuit; the GOP’s proposed alternative, which does not require insurance companies to offer policies that actually cover pre-existing conditions, and the claim that Democratic support of Medicare for All is “radical socialism.”

Should Madison Live or Die?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a case currently before the US Supreme Court—Madison v. Alabama—in which the Court will consider whether a death row inmate may constitutionally be executed despite his advanced dementia causing him not to recall the crime for which he is to be executed. Griffin highlights the ethical and legal issues raised in that case and addresses considerations on both sides.

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