Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
Incorrigibility of the Juvenile Offender

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the U.S. Supreme Court will consider this term that presents the question whether the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits sentencing a juvenile offender to life without the possibility of parole. Colb considers the wisdom and constitutionality of imposing such a sentence on a person who was under 18 at the time of his crime.

Justice Ginsburg’s Parting Gift

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains why the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week should invigorate the left into seeking lasting change through the legislative and executive branches of government. Margulies points out that the myth of the Court as the ultimate defender of underrepresented minorities and the poor is, for much of the Court’s history, just a myth. He calls upon people everywhere to vote and make their will known, and he predicts that the Court will not stray far from the popular will.

GOP-Packed Appeals Court Splits Hairs to Give Florida GOP a Victory Over Florida Voters

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the Eleventh Circuit sitting en banc, in which the court upheld Florida’s Section 0751, by which the Republican-controlled state legislature gutted a voter referendum that would have restored the right to vote to ex-felons in the state who had served their time. Dorf points out that the court’s vote was split based on the party of the President who appointed them and argues that the majority exhibited an attitude of “petty sticklerism,” invoking formalistic and reality-denying reasons to rule as it did.

A Deeply Misguided Fifth Circuit Ruling on Voting Rights and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a recent decision by a divided three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit holding that a Texas vote-by-mail law that prefers people who are 65 or older does not violate the Twenty-Sixth Amendment of the federal Constitution. Amar explains why the decision is “deeply misguided” and runs counter to the clear words of the Constitution.

Law and Non-Legal Entitlements: Kate Manne’s Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women

Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler comments on philosopher Kate Manne’s recent book, Entitled, in which Mann tackles “privileged men’s sense of entitlement” as a “pervasive social problem with often devastating consequences.” Wexler praises Manne’s work as “illuminating” and calls upon lawyers and law scholars to ask how such entitlements might best and safely be challenged and reallocated, and how new more egalitarian entitlements might be generated and enforced.

When Do Ministers Win and Lose?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin describes the legal landscape after the U.S. Supreme Court’s July 2020 decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, in which the Court took an expansive view of the ministerial exception. Griffin describes two recent decisions by U.S. Courts of Appeals ruling in favor of an employee and against a religious employer, demonstrating that ministers still have a chance (albeit a small one) of winning their antidiscrimination lawsuits.

Drafted and Shafted: Who Should Complain About Male-Only Registration?

Cornell law professor comments on a recent opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit holding that requiring men but not women to register for the draft is constitutional under mandatory U.S. Supreme Court precedents. Specifically, Colb considers what the U.S. Supreme Court should do if it agrees to hear the case and more narrowly, whether the motives of the plaintiffs in that case bear on how the case should come out.

The Biggest Threat to Herd Immunity Against COVID-19 May Be the Religious Freedom Restoration Act(s) and State Religious Exemptions

Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—argues that the biggest threats to herd immunity against COVID-19 are federal and state religious liberty statutes and religious/philosophical exemptions. Hamilton describes how the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its state-law equivalents came to be in the United States, and she calls upon legislators at all levels to amend RFRA so that once we have developed an effective and safe vaccine, we might as a country develop herd immunity and prevent more unnecessary deaths.

America Has Failed

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes a few of the ways in which America has failed its people—its inability to feed, house, and provide water for its poor, while at the same time finding tools to support and enrich its wealthy. Margulies paints a bleak picture of the number of Americans who will go hungry, be evicted, or lack indoor plumbing and access to clean, affordable water. In contrast, Margulies points out that the stock market—in which 84% of all stocks owned by Americans are held by the wealthiest 10%—has fully recovered.

Don’t Blame the SCOTUS DACA Ruling for Difficulties Undoing Trump’s Damage

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf responds to claims that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last term invalidating the Trump administration’s effort to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program license President Trump to take actions that will be difficult for a future Democratic administration to undo. Dorf argues that characterizing the ruling as a win for Trump and his executive power is far-fetched, and we should instead be concerned with the long-lasting damage to the environment and our nation’s foreign policy caused by the Trump administration.

Religious Entities Flex Their Muscles Through the Roberts Court, Playing Both Sides of the Discrimination Coin

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, describe how legal entities wielded their religious identity as both a shield and a sword last term before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hamilton points out that religious entities won key cases that allow them to receive from government funding while enjoying exemptions from neutral generally applicable non-discrimination laws.

Barr’s Testimony Is the Latest Example of the Trump Administration’s War on Congressional Oversight

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on Attorney General William Barr’s appearance last week before the House Judiciary Committee. Sarat argues that Barr’s testimony exemplifies the Trump administration’s defiance of the constitutional principle of congressional oversight.

Narrow Debate About the Death Penalty

In light of the federal government’s resumption of executions, Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some of the common arguments of proponents and opponents of capital punishment. Colb observes that many of the moral arguments are based on a consequentialist perspective and suggests that a deontological perspective might lead to novel arguments and considerations about the death penalty.

The Selfie Coup: How to Tell If Your Government Is Plotting to Overthrow Itself

Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, describes how to tell whether a government is plotting to overthrow itself—a phenomenon he calles a “Selfie Coup.” Falvy explains the difference between a Selfie Coup and creeping authoritarianism by providing examples of both and argues that the more aware civil society is of the possibility of a Selfie Coup, the more likely it can prepare its defenses in time to prevent it.

Impoverishing Women: Supreme Court Upholds Trump Administration’s Religious and Moral Exemptions to Contraceptive Mandate

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Trump administration’s religious and moral exemptions to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Grossman provides a brief history of the conflict over the growing politicization of contraception in the United States and argues that the exemptions at issue in this case should never have been promulgated in the first place because they have no support in science or public policy.

The Ministerial Exception Allows Racial Discrimination by Religions

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin describes the ministerial exception—a First Amendment rule created by courts that bars the application of anti-discrimination laws to religious organizations’ employment relationships with its “ministers”—and enumerates some of the cases in which the exception led to dismissal of a lawsuit. Griffin argues that we as a society cannot achieve full justice as long as courts interpret religious freedom to include a ministerial exception that condones racial discrimination lawsuits.

What Happened in Kahler v. Kansas?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes how the U.S. Supreme Court purported to allow the state of Kansas to substitute one insanity defense for another, but in fact approved its abolishment of the insanity defense altogether. Colb explains the difference between the insanity defense—an affirmative defense to the commission of a crime—and facts that negate mens rea—the mental element of a crime. Colb also notes how in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer made a case for veganism, albeit probably inadvertently.

A Backward- and Forward-Looking Assessment of the Supreme Court’s “Faithless Elector” Cases: Part One in a Two-Part Series

In this first of a two-part series of columns about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the “faithless elector” cases, Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar expresses disappointment that the majority opinion—authored by Justice Elena Kagan—and concurring opinion—by Justice Clarence Thomas—are not as well reasoned or careful as they could be. Amar points out some of the ways in which the opinions fall short, noting some of the arguments that merited more discussion, or at least more thorough consideration.

Women Lose at the Court

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on three recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in which religion has won, at the expense of women. Griffin explains why the Court’s decisions in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (and the consolidated case, St. James School v. Biel), Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania (and the consolidated case, Trump v. Pennsylvania), and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue together amount to sanctioned and government-funded discrimination masquerading as religious freedom.

Trump Turns History Into a Culture War Battlefield

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on President Trump’s Fourth of July speeches, in which the President described a nation at war with itself and its legacy. Sarat points out the irony of Trump accusing others of lying about or attempting to erase the past, and he notes that Trump’s own distortion of historical facts is a tactic that authoritarian, fascist, and totalitarian regimes have used in the past to legitimize the regime or erase inconvenient truths.

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