Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

So When Will Religious Organizations Choose Not to Discriminate?

Leading church-state scholar Marci A. Hamilton comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in which it held that a female principal of a Catholic school has no legal recourse when a priest engages in gender discrimination that would be actionable in any other setting. Hamilton explains that this is a product of the misguided ministerial exception, which is part of a larger, more troubling social pattern of religious entities demanding a right to discriminate and harm others.

Some Aspects of the Matal v. Tam Trademark Case That Would Have Benefitted from More Explanation

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Matal v. Tam, in which the Court struck down as unconstitutional part of the federal trademark registration statute that prohibits registration of disparaging marks. Amar points out that the Court’s decision in Matal is difficult to square with its reasoning and holding in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Soldiers, a case from two years ago in which the Court upheld Texas’s refusal to approve a specialty license plate design that made extensive use of the Confederate flag image.

Can a Presidential Candidate Get Away With Defamatory Lying?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf analyzes the arguments made by Donald Trump’s lawyers in defending against Summer Zervos’s defamation suit against him, specifically the argument that Trump’s comments were mere “hyperbole” and “fiery rhetoric,” which, in the context of a presidential campaign, do not amount to defamation under state law. Dorf argues that existing law already offers politicians some protections against frivolous lawsuits, and what Trump’s lawyers are asking for is essentially a license for a candidate to lie about anyone and anything so long as the controversy has some connection to politics.

Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer at the Supreme Court: Be Careful What They Wish For

Marci A. Hamilton, a leading church/state scholar and Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, which Hamilton argues reflects a common-sense application of existing jurisprudence on the Free Exercise Clause. Hamilton laments that legislators are not acting with the same level of common sense as they develop and interpret dangerous Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

Independence Day: The Texas Supreme Court Refuses to Hold That the Federal Constitutional Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Has Full Force in Texas

SMU Dedman School of Law professors Joanna L. Grossman and Dale Carpenter comment on a recent decision by the Texas Supreme Court in which it refuses to give effect to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. Grossman and Carpenter explain why the Texas court’s decision was clearly wrong and why factors other than merits might have (though they should not have) affected the ruling in that case.

A Summary and Analysis of the Nixon Tapes Case That Still Governs Important Aspects of “Executive Privilege” Today

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains the U.S. Supreme Court’s seminal decision in United States v. Nixon and explains how it might affect the Trump administration in light of various ongoing investigations. Amar provides a brief summary of the Court’s holding in that case, calls attention to some weaknesses in its reasoning, and anticipates what issues might present themselves again.

Summarily Reversed: Arkansas’s Attempt to Flout Obergefell v. Hodges Is Blocked

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent summary reversal of the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling that upheld that state’s attempt to avoid the marriage equality decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Grossman describes the ways in which some states, such as Arkansas in this case, have tried to avoid, subvert, or limit Obergefell’s holding, and she discusses the Supreme Court’s simple yet clear response, as well as the significance of Justice Gorsuch’s dissent from the per curiam opinion.

Trump’s Travel Ban Heads to the Supreme Court

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses possible implications and outcomes of the Supreme Court’s recent announcement that it will review the appeals court decisions invalidating President Trump’s travel ban executive order. Dorf explains the issue of mootness and also explains how one might predict how the Court will rule on the merits of the case.

Supreme Court Considers Whether to Grant Privacy to Cell Tower Location Records

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the reasoning behind an appeals court's allowing law enforcement to acquire, without a warrant or probable cause, cell phone records that include a user’s approximate location over a period of several months. Colb expresses relief that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider the issue so that we can know whether, by using a cell phone, we are thereby exposing our location to the police (and not just to our wireless service providers).

Policing Sexism at the Border: The Supreme Court’s Decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana, in which the Court held unconstitutional a federal law imposing different physical presence requirements on mothers as compared to fathers. Grossman argues that the law at issue epitomized sex discrimination and was rooted in archaic generalizations about parents based on gender.

Remaining Faithful to Free Speech and Academic Freedom

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar laments recent instances of censored speech, particularly on university campuses, and reminds us that freedom of speech and academic freedom protect even those speakers whose message might be perceived odious, racist, sexist, or hateful. Amar points out that both freedom of speech and academic freedom are rooted in the principle that ideas and arguments ought to be evaluated on their substance and that the essence of both kinds of freedom is the opportunity to persuade others of the merits of one's argument, rather than the use of power to coerce or silence others.

Supreme Court Rules That Citizenship Must Be Equally Heritable Through Fathers and Mothers

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the heritability of citizenship and explains why the decision might have implications for other immigration issues, such as the “Muslim ban” executive order. Dorf argues that the precedents the Court had to distinguish to reach its conclusion might give some insight into whether and how it might defer to other political branches on immigration issues.

Texas House Approves a Doomed Abortion Law: Why?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses legislation recently approved by the Texas House that will almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutionally restricting women's right to seek an abortion prior to fetal viability. Colb explains that the legislation is more speech than it is law and discusses some possible reasons the state would want to “speak” in this manner.

The Trump Presidency is the Best Civics Lesson in Our Lifetimes

Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses how missteps by the Trump Administration have offered the American people a refresher in basic concepts of U.S. government. Hamilton breaks down these various civics topics and explains how the actions of Donald Trump and his administration have returned subjects such as checks and balances, constitutional allocation of power, and impeachment to the forefront of minds in the American public.

A Primer on Impeachment (With Special Attention to the Recent Allegations of Interference by President Trump in the Flynn/Russia Investigation)

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains a few basics about the presidential impeachment process. Amar points out that impeachable conduct does not need to violate criminal statutes, that presidential participation in pending investigations isn’t necessarily wrong (but can be), and that not all “high crimes and misdemeanors” must lead to impeachment.

A Fresh Look at Jury Nullification

In response to a recent episode of the podcast Radiolab that relates the story of a juror who was prosecuted for attempting jury nullification, Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers how we ought to think about the power of jurors to acquit for any reason. Colb explains what jury nullification is and describes some situations in which it is most clearly appropriate and some in which it is problematic. She also proposes a solution to address bias in all phases of the criminal process, rather than just prosecution and trial.

Discrimination Begets Discrimination: The Ninth Circuit Allows Prior Salary to Justify Paying Women Less Than Men for the Same Work

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit perpetuating pay disparities between men and women by allowing an employer to rely on prior salary in determining pay. Grossman explains why the use of salary history undermines the purpose of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and argues that laws prohibiting use of salary history, like Massachusetts has, require an employer to think about how much the work is worth rather than how much the person is worth.

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 Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... 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 of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more