Analysis and Commentary on Government

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.

Mr. No-Government President Discovers the Government

Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, describes how the separation of powers built into U.S. democracy is working as it should to prevent abuses of power by, at this time, the executive. Hamilton points out that federalism—the balance of power between state and federal government—also plays a significant role in curbing abuses of power.

Another New Federalism Flashpoint: State and Local Laws Targeting Entities that Assist in “Building the Wall”

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on recent actions by state and local governments to oppose federal policies, such as the immigration and the wall along the U.S.–Mexico border. Amar argues that these attempts likely run contrary to the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution by attempting to interfere with the execution of federal policy.

How to Drain the Swamp? Use a Flashlight

Chapman University Fowler School of Law professor Ronald D. Rotunda calls for the executive branch to shine a light into some areas of government that have been obscured in the past eight years, including the conduct of former IRS officer Lois Lerner, Operation Fast and Furious, and investigations by the offices of the inspectors general. Rotunda argues that the release of documents related to these and other issues will help us know if we should be worried about our government.

Sympathy for the Comfortable: The New Conservative Theory of Compassion

George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains in plain English what Mick Mulvaney meant when he attempted to justify President Trump’s budget proposal that would cut programs that help America’s most vulnerable, such as Meals on Wheels and subsidized school lunches for poor children. As Buchanan explains, Mulvaney’s explanation is based on a false notion that better-off people gain as much utility from each dollar as worse-off people receive from the same amount.

The Educational Function of Kabuki Confirmation Hearings

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the value of the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, despite the tradition in such hearings of the nominee evading answering questions about the most divisive legal issues of the day. Dorf argues that the Gorsuch hearing provides a unique opportunity for bipartisan repudiation of President Trump’s irresponsible attacks on the judiciary.

An Open Letter to the American People on the Dangers of Taking a President at His Word

Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, pens an open letter to the American people warning of the dangers of trusting any president without questioning. Hamilton explains that the framers of the Constitution envisioned that those in power could not be trusted and for that reason empowered the press to check those with power. Hamilton argues that the Trump Administration is encouraging the American people to abandon this part of the social contract.

Ambitious Proposals in the States Testing Constitutional Limits of Legislative Power to Interpret the Constitution

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses several legislative proposals in various states that purport to give state legislatures power to interpret and implement the federal Constitution notwithstanding judicial rulings interpreting the same. Amar explains some of the key differences between the different proposals and why some are likely to pass constitutional muster while others are not.

Should Federalism Play a Role in the Interpretation of Civil Rights Laws?

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf argues that in some contexts, consideration of states’ rights is relevant to the interpretation of federal statutes, but in other contexts—including the federal lawsuit over a transgender boy’s access to a boys’ restroom at school—principles of federalism are outweighed by other considerations. Dorf provides three examples of instances where federalism should play a role in the interpretation of federal statutes, and he explains why the transgender bathroom case differs from those instances.

Visas: The Historical and Legal Precedent

Chapman University, Fowler School of Law, professor Ronald D. Rotunda explains the legal precedent behind the executive’s power to restrict visas for non-U.S. citizens to enter the United States. Rotunda points out that the recent opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit fails to mention almost any of the precedential cases on point when it struck down President Trump’s executive order limiting immigration.

President Trump’s Tools to Prosecute Leakers

John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, discusses President Trump’s recent comments regarding information leaks, one of which led to the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. While Dean explains that there is no official law in the United States that makes it a crime to leak information to the news media or others, many former U.S. presidents have made attempts to prosecute those who leaked information during their presidencies, with varying degrees of success. This, Dean notes, may lend credence to President Trump's threat of legal consequences, should the individuals responsible for these most recent leaks be identified.

How Strong is San Francisco’s “Sanctuary City” Lawsuit Against the Trump Administration?

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and California civil litigator Michael Schaps consider the strength of San Francisco’s lawsuit against the Trump Administration arising out of its identity as a “sanctuary city.” Amar and Schaps discuss both the ripeness of the claim, a threshold procedural matter, and also the merits of San Francisco’s arguments.

Judge Gorsuch’s Misguided Quest to End Judicial Deference to Administrative Agencies

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the distinctive position taken by Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with respect to the so-called Chevron doctrine, under which courts defer to reasonable agency interpretations of ambiguous federal statutes. Dorf explains why Judge Gorsuch’s quest to end judicial deference to agencies not only contrasts with Justice Scalia’s position on the issue, but it is also erroneous and based on a misconception of how Chevron works.

Law, Politics, and Symbolism in the Muslim Ban

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies argues that the significance of President Trump’s “Muslim Ban” executive order lies not in the legal issues it presents, but in its symbolism. As Margulies explains, the executive order is a symbol that will be used to mobilize support for competing narratives about American life; what ultimately matters is which narrative prevails.

You’re Fired: Four Ways Donald Trump’s Presidency Might Not Last Four Years

Guest columnist Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law and attorney with an international business practice, examines four ways in which Donald Trump’s presidency might not last for the full four-year term. In addition to describing each of the four ways, Falvy offers a prediction as to the likelihood Trump’s presidency will end in that manner.

Constitutional Lessons from the Senate’s Quick Processing of President-Elect Trump’s Cabinet Picks?

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar describes two lessons we should take away from the Senate’s processing of President-elect Trump’s nominees for his Cabinet. First, Amar explains the constitutional difference between executive and judicial appointments. Second, Amar explains the relatively long time between the end of the election and when the president-elect actually takes office, and also proposes a way to reduce this period and ease transition.

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... 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 leading church/state scholars in the United States, a Fox Distinguis... 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