Analysis and Commentary on Civil Rights
Congress Should Protect Voluntary Affirmative Action in Private Colleges and Universities

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains how Congress can (and argues that it should) protect affirmative action in private colleges and universities in light of the supermajority of the Supreme Court that seems hostile to affirmative action. Professor Dorf points out that even if his suggestion seems far-fetched in the current political climate, urgent calls for action now can effectively arm advocates to effect change when they are better positioned to do so in the future.

Alito and the Free Exercise of Christianity

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s July 28 keynote address at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit in Rome, Italy. Professor Colb explains why Alito’s characterization of the Holocaust as a denial of religious liberty is untrue and misleading, and she points out that he uses his position of power to impose a specific brand of Christianity on unwilling people.

To Be or Not to Be a Mother: A Timeless Question with New Urgency

In this second of a series of columns on the Supreme Court’s decision that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and Stanford Law professor Lawrence M. Friedman describe how abortion law arose alongside the eugenics movement. As Professor Grossman and Friedman explain, early abortion restrictions were, in part, an effort to encourage the “right” people to have babies (positive eugenics), used in conjunction with negative eugenics, which involved forced sterilization of people deemed “unfit.”

The Roadmap for Pregnant Girls and Women to Assert Their Religious Liberty to Invalidate Abortion Bans

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton calls upon the majority of Americans to insist that their worldviews and beliefs—not just those of the extreme Christian right—be recognized in the courts. Professor Hamilton explains how many individuals seeking an abortion in states that prohibit them can use a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to obtain an exemption to the abortion ban.

The End of Roe v. Wade

In this first of a series of columns on the Supreme Court’s elimination of the constitutional right to abortion, SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman describes the history of the right to abortion and explains how the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization changes both the legal landscape and also our constitutional conception of what it means to be full members of society. Professor Grossman argues that with this ruling, the Supreme Court has returned women to the service of society, rather than allowing them the dignity of an autonomous life, and that is only the beginning.

With Dobbs, We’re All in Bork’s America Now

Amherst professor Austin Sarat and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut argue that Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, together with the language in Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion, put the country on a path toward the totalitarian state that one-time Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork had envisioned. Professor Sarat and Mr. Aftergut point out that Bork’s America would have a constitution that does not evolve or change to meet new circumstances and that affords no protection of citizens’ privacy from government intrusion

Justice Alito’s Opinion on Abortion: Not Just a Threat to Reproductive Rights, but to All Constitutional Liberties Not Expressly Set Out in the Constitution

Attorney Jon May argues that the reasoning of Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked majority draft of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org. poses a threat not only to reproductive rights, but to all constitutional liberties not expressly enumerated in the Constitution. Mr. May points out that the radical departure of Justice Alito’s opinion could pave the way for the Court to overturn numerous rights recognized over the past seventy years deriving from the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Overruling Roe is Just the Beginning

In response to the leaked draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the likely ramifications of the Supreme Court’s overruling Roe v. Wade, the seminal case recognizing the constitutional right to seek an abortion. Professor Dorf argues that the language and reasoning of the draft suggest that this emboldened Court with a super-majority of Republican appointees is also preparing to overrule Lawrence v. Texas (recognizing the right of consenting adults to engage in same-sex sexual conduct) and Obergefell v. Hodges (recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry).

When Is Revising Admissions Criteria to Alter the Racial Makeup of a School’s Student Body Constitutionally Problematic? A Recent Case from Virginia on the Court’s “Shadow” Docket May Offer Some Hints

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone comment on a recent case from Virginia that suggests when revising admissions criteria to alter the racial makeup of a school’s student body is constitutional (and when it is not). Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone point out that although some Supreme Court Justices have suggested in dicta and dissents some permissible options, they may very well decide that those options too are impermissible, despite the natural and reasonable reliance on those writings.

Governor Greg Abbott’s Unconstitutional War on Trans Children (and Their Parents)

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman describes the American child welfare system and argues that Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s attempt to weaponize state child abuse law against trans children and their parents is grossly unconstitutional. Professor Grossman points out that the child welfare system gives parents broad discretion to make medical decisions for their children, and a state cannot simply decide that a particular type of medical treatment constitutes child abuse because it is politically opposed to it.

New Federal Law Reminds Americans of What Lynching Really Means

Amherst professor Austin Sarat describes how politicians have misused the term “lynching” for their own political purposes, thereby threatening to dilute its meaning. Professor Sarat praises President Biden for signing into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act and calls upon the president and Attorney General Merrick Garland to use its historic passage to put the full weight of the federal government behind efforts to stem the epidemic of hate crimes plaguing this country.

Masterpiece Cakeshop Redux and the Homophobia Exemption from Anti-Discrimination Law

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review that presents the question whether the application of a state anti-discrimination law to a web designer who wishes to exclude same-sex couples from her services violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Professor Colb predicts that the Court is likely to hold that the law as applied to the web designer does violate her free speech right—continuing a pattern of almost exclusively granting homophobes special First Amendment exemptions from anti-discrimination law.

Believing Anita Hill

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a new book by Anita Hill, who famously testified about her sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas before his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Professor Griffin praises Hill’s book for chronicling the history of gender violence and for demanding meaningful reform to address gender violence at all levels of society.

Naomi Osaka, Disability Accommodations, and Platonic Essentialism

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers how the recent treatment of tennis player Naomi Osaka by the professional tennis establishment highlights key aspects of disability law. Professor Dorf argues that while reasonable people can disagree in many cases about what constitutes the “essence” of a sport for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), no one can plausibly argue that speaking to reporters at a press conference is in any way essential to playing tennis.

Trashing the Playing Field: State Legislators Misguided Move to Ban Transgender Women and Girls from Competing in Women’s Sports

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and Stanford Law 1L Saraswati Rathod explain why recent efforts in various states to ban transgender women and girls from competing in women’s sports are dangerous and misguided. Professor Grossman and Ms. Rathod argue that the actions purport to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist, and they risk substantial harm to a vulnerable group of women and girls, as well as to women’s athletics across the board.

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.

Remembering Deborah Rhode: Co-Author, Friend, and Feminist Co-Conspirator

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman, Duke Law professor Katharine T. Bartlett, and Pitt Law professor Deborah L. Brake reflect on the life and achievements of Professor Deborah Rhode, who recently passed away. Professors Grossman, Bartlett, and Brake describe Professor Rhode’s countless contributions to the legal academy and to the fight for gender equity.

The Steps the Biden Administration Needs to Take to Rescue the U.S. from the Precipice of Theocracy

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, describes the steps the Biden administration needs to take to bring the country back from the precipice of becoming a theocracy. Professor Hamilton highlights action items with respect to the Department of Justice, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment, tax exemptions and accountability, and governmental financial support for organizations engaged in discriminatory practices.

Another Strike Against § 230 of the Communications Decency Act: Courts Allowing § 230 to Trump Federal and State Public Accommodations Protections

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and 2L Samantha Zipper describe how several courts have invoked Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act as a basis for limiting rights against discrimination in public accommodations. Estreicher and Zipper argue that as American society moves increasingly online, § 230 must be read more narrowly, with goals of safeguarding individual civil rights in an already prolific internet sector.

Election Day 2020: A Good Day to End the GOP’s War on Women

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman describes the myriad ways the Trump administration has harmed the interests of women and expresses hope that the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election will mark the end of the GOP’s war on women. Grossman notes that if Biden and the Democrats win the White House and Congress, they will have not only the opportunity but the obligation to restore what the modern GOP has destroyed.

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

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 Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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