UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan describes the precarious situation of our democracy and notes that there are many necessary conditions for a constitutional republic to continue to operate, and because each is necessary, losing any of them would lead to the whole system crashing down. In this column, Professor Buchanan points out some of the many ways in which our nation could descend into autocracy.
In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers four observations about recent calls for reform of the filibuster device in the U.S. Senate. Dean Amar suggests looking at state experiences with supermajority rules, as well as the Senate’s own recent past, and he considers why senators might be reluctant to eliminate the filibuster. He concludes with a comment on President Joe Biden’s suggestion that the Senate return to the “talking filibuster” and praises a suggestion by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) that the cloture requirement (currently at 60 votes) could be lowered gradually, the longer a measure under consideration is debated.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf responds to three broad-based objections by Republican opponents to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: (1) that the already-recovering economy doesn’t need stimulus; (2) that many of the Act’s provisions have nothing to do with COVID-19; and (3) that there will be waste, fraud, and abuse. Professor Dorf explains why these objections ring hollow and argues that while the Act is not perfect legislation and will likely face challenges in implementation, it is a much better option than anything Republicans were offering.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf describes the ostensibly complex legal issues presented in United States v. Arthrex, Inc., in which the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument earlier this week, and explains how those issues reflect an ideological divide as to other, more accessible matters. Professor Dorf argues that although many conservatives would like to dismantle the modern administrative state, our complex modern society all but requires these government agencies, so conservatives instead seek to make them politically accountable through a Senate-confirmed officer answerable to the president, furthering the so-called unitary-executive theory of Article II.
Illinois Law Dean Vikram David Amar comments on an unusual move by the U.S. Solicitor General’s office, sending a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court amending the position of the federal government in a case currently pending before the Court challenging the Affordable Care Act. Dean Amar explains why the arrival of a new administration should generally not trigger such position reversals, but he argues that the unusual circumstances—specifically the “exceptional implausibility” of the government’s prior filings—may justify the government’s action in this instance.
Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, makes the case for impeaching Donald Trump again, after the failed insurrection of January 6. Falvy describes three possible ways to disempower Trump from undermining democracy in our nation and explains why immediate impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate is the most appropriate course of action.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, pens an open letter to members of Congress, describing Wednesday’s insurrection by pro-Trump extremists as predicable (even predicted) to the Framers and calling upon Congress to impeach and convict the President. Professor Hamilton argues that Donald Trump is the embodiment of what the Framers expected from rulers: self-centered corruption, greed, and no care for the common good.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf describes what is at stake on Wednesday, January 6, when Congress meets in joint session to confirm Joe Biden’s election as President. Professor Dorf explains why, although Trump apparently lacks the majority necessary to invalidate a duly chose electoral slate, the stakes are still very high.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the assumptions inherent in the executive pardon power and explains why the purpose of the presidential pardon forecloses the possibility of a self-pardon. Colb argues that the only person who would dare to try to grant a self-pardon—one who lacks empathy—is the very one who should not be exercising the pardon power at all.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—describes how President Trump’s pardons reveal his “superficial and distorted” understanding of American values. Professor Sarat points out that for someone who claims to value the clemency power, President Trump has granted clemency fewer times than any President since William McKinley, who served from 1897 to 1901, and when Trump has granted clemency, he has used it to reward people whose crimes show their contempt for the rule of law.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the third challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that has made it before the U.S. Supreme Court, and considers how the case will play in the upcoming Georgia runoff elections. Dorf argues that absent a dramatic and highly unusual development—like a Supreme Court decision rejecting the ACA challenge in the next few weeks—that should help the Democratic candidates in Georgia’s runoff elections.
Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, explains why federalism—the autonomy of the states in our country—has been a significant barrier to many of the authoritarian projects Trump has advanced or considered. Falvy argues that the same autonomy should prevent Trump from manipulating the election results decisively in his own favor.
Austin Sarat, Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College, and Dennis Aftergut, a former federal prosecutor, describe how the United States can repair the damage to democracy done over the last four years by Donald Trump. Sarat and Aftergut point out the numerous times in American history that have witnessed repairs after serious damage, including President Ford’s reform of the Justice Department after Watergate and President Roosevelt’s New Deal reform after Hoover’s laissez-faire response to the Depression.
UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan reflects on the contributions of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to tax law jurisprudence and discusses the potential chaos that faces our country in the upcoming elections. Although he expresses cautious optimism that law and the American public together should prevent a constitutional crisis, Buchanan warns that we should all be frightened by the fact that the election can still be stolen if enough carefully placed Republican partisans are willing to upend our constitutional democracy.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—describes how President Trump has laid the groundwork for a post-election coup d'ètat. Sarat points to Republicans’ intimidating voters from minority groups and others likely to vote Democratic, Trump’s shaping the federal judiciary with approximately 200 new judges, his pre-election statements, and the litigation already in progress as evidence of his plan to carry out a post-election coup by and through, not against, the law.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.