Analysis and Commentary on Civil Rights
Has the Justice Department Just Issued a Warning to the CIA?

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies reflects on the Department of Justice’s recent indictment of four Russian officers for torturing an American in Ukraine, interpreting it as a significant legal and moral statement against torture. Professor Margulies speculates whether this action represents a broader condemnation of torture or a narrower stance against torture when Americans are victims, contrasting it with the U.S.’s own history of torture post-9/11.

How Important is the Eighth Circuit’s Recent Ruling that the Voting Rights Act Does Not Contain a Private Right of Action? Section 1983 and Ex Parte Young as Workarounds

UC Davis law professor Vikram David Amar argues that a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, holding that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act does not confer a private right to sue, may not be as catastrophic as some fear, given that there are potential workarounds for victims of Voting Rights Act violations. Professor Amar suggests that plaintiffs could use alternatives like 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or Ex Parte Young to address violations, as these routes do not require an explicit or implied private right of action under the statute being violated.

Does Diversity Have a Future?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that while the recent departure of Stanford’s associate dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is noteworthy, the broader issue is the legal status of diversity initiatives following the recent Supreme Court ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. Professor Dorf contends that despite the Court’s skepticism towards race-based affirmative action, DEI offices still have a legitimate role, albeit one that may need to adjust its approaches to promoting diversity and inclusion.

The Department of Justice Cannot Cure What Ails Memphis

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into the City of Memphis and its police department following the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, which exposed a culture of violence and indifference within the department. While Professor Margulies welcomes this investigation as a step in the right direction, he argues that the Department of Justice lacks the tools and authority to address systemic issues related to policing and public safety in Memphis; ultimately, the solution must come from local initiatives and collaboration within the community.

The Dangerous Allure of Seemingly Inescapable Facts

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis, in which the Court ostensibly held that a Colorado public accommodations law was unconstitutional as applied to website designer Lorie Smith because it compelled her to create artistic content in violation of her religious beliefs. Professor Margulies argues that the decision has potentially far-reaching implications that could return us to the days of Jim Crow—all because the stipulated facts in that case seemed (to some Justices) to lead to an inescapable result.

Preliminary Thoughts on Potential Constitutional Flaws in SB 403, a California Proposal to Prohibit Caste Discrimination

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar comments on California’s SB 403, which proposes to prohibit discrimination on the basis of caste. Dean Amar points out some of the constitutional flaws in the bill and describes some changes that likely need to be made to make the law more constitutionally defensible.

Arizona Case May Change the National Conversation About Race and Capital Punishment

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on two cases currently working their way through the Arizona court system, in which defense lawyers from the Capital Unit of the Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender are raising innovative arguments based on the systemic racism in all aspects of American life. Professor Sarat argues that these carefully crafted and extensively documented motions call on judges to confront the reality of America’s racist past and continuing institutional racism before allowing the government to carry out any more “legal lynchings.”

“I Hope They Stomp His Ass”

Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the videos released by the City of Memphis documenting the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers. Professor Margulies points out that the atrocious conduct captured on video reflects a police culture that encourages brutality and indifference, arguing that if the Memphis Police Department can’t change the culture they’ve created, their officers don’t deserve the badge.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: A Long-Awaited Victory for Pregnant Workers

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which Congress introduced for the first time in 2012 and which President Biden finally signed into law on December 29, 2022. Professor Grossman explains the gaps in pregnancy discrimination law, the need to better address the realities of pregnant workers, and the ways in which the new law will better meet their needs.

The End of a Bad Era: Congress Repeals the Defense of Marriage Act

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which practically and symbolically enshrines protection for same-sex marriage in federal law. Professor Grossman explains the shameful history of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the changes effectuated by the Respect for Marriage Act.

Will the Supreme Court Respect the Respect for Marriage Act?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the scope and limits of the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA), which would codify a federal right to same-sex marriage. Professor Dorf argues that while the RMA cannot guarantee marriage equality for the long run, for now, it seems like a sensible hedge against an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court.

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.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... 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 Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

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

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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