Analysis and Commentary on Government
A Somewhat Optimistic View of the Possible Constitutional Crisis of 2020

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.

The Coming Constitutional Coup

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Notes on an Oral Argument: The Questions Asked, the Answers Given, and What They May Augur for the Supreme Court’s Decision in the Congressional Subpoena Cases

Touro law professor Rodger D. Citron analyzes the oral arguments in the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding demands for President Trump’s financial records. Citron explains why it seems likely that the Court will reverse the lower courts’ decisions refusing to quash the House committee subpoenas and offers a number of observations based on his review of the transcript.

The “When” of Chevron: The Missed Opportunity of County of Maui

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and rising 3L Daniel Folsom comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, in which the Court interpreted a provision of the Clean Water. Estreicher and Folsom argue that the case presented an opportunity to clarify the murky question of when the Chevron doctrine applies, yet the Court avoided answering that question.

How the President and Attorney General Could Have Avoided the Geoffrey Berman Debacle

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the recent dispute over the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and explains what President Trump and Attorney General Barr could have done to avoid the problem altogether. Amar describes a process that, if followed, could have allowed the administration to appoint their first-choice candidate without causing the controversy in which it now finds itself.

The Response to President Trump’s Shameless Religious Photo Op Gives Me Hope for the Future

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton praises the response of liberal clergy in response to President Trump’s seemingly opportunistic photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Hamilton calls upon these religious leaders to continue speaking out loudly in the name of inclusion, love, and truth.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court Dresses Up Culture War in Jurisprudential Garb

Austin Sarat— Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on the decision by the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court halting the state’s stay at home order. Sarat points out that the opinion recapitulates, without acknowledgment, debates in analytic jurisprudence about the distinction between orders and rules, and he argues that while the decision may be good for the Trump campaign, it puts at risk the lives and well-being of Wisconsin’s citizens.

Linking COVID-19 Relief for State Governments to Abandonment of “Sanctuary” Policies? The Uncharted Territory of Conditional Spending

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone assess President Trump’s suggestion that federal aid to state and local governments might be conditioned on their willingness to abandon their “sanctuary” policies and assist the federal government in immigration enforcement. Although Amar and Mazzone expect those federal spending conditions not to be realized, they use the President’s comment to list and describe some unanswered fundamental constitutional questions in the conditional spending arena.

President Trump Clashes with Legal Oversight in Three Cases to be Argued at the Supreme Court

Associate Dean for Research & Scholarship and Professor of Law at Touro Law Rodger D. Citron comments on three cases coming up for oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. Citron observes that if the other eight justices vote along ideological lines, Chief Justice John Roberts will cast the deciding vote in those pivotal cases.

COVID-19 Lays Bare the Cruelty of Neoliberalism

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies observes how the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the cruel folly of neoliberal governance. Margulies points out that neoliberalism—the idea that social problems are better solved by the private sector than by government—has brought millions of Americans to the edge of financial and physical ruin, and COVID-19 will push them over. He argues that now more than ever, we must be communitarians rather than individualists.

How the Coronavirus Crisis Reveals Weaknesses Not Just in America’s Public Health Systems But in Our Constitutional Doctrines

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains how the current crisis caused by the novel coronavirus reveals flaws in both America’s public health system and also in the country’s constitutional doctrines. Responding in part to Professor Michael C. Dorf’s column of March 15 urging uniform federal restrictions, Amar expresses doubt as to whether Congress’s powers under Article I of the Constitution permit imposition of such a lockdown in the first place.

What Happens Now?

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies points out that in the face of the present COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be general consensus nationwide that the federal government should intervene to mitigate the economic damage, even among those who very recently believed that social problems are better solved by the private sector than by the government. Margulies asks whether this new perspective will also evoke compassion. He points out that, given the expected duration of the fight against the novel coronavirus, $2,500 is not nearly sufficient for a struggling family of four who can no longer work. What will we do for the tens of millions of Americans facing disaster?

Can the Republicans Cancel the Elections, Even Though Trump Can’t?

UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan considers whether (and how) President Trump or his supporters in Congress could cancel the 2020 elections, citing public safety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Buchanan points out that because states control the procedures for the election, Trump would need Republican governors of certain blue states to shut down their state’s elections—something Buchanan stops short of saying is likely or unlikely.

An Important Second Circuit Ruling on Sanctuary Jurisdictions May Have Reached the Right Result, but En Route it Misread the Momentous Sebelius Supreme Court Ruling on Conditional Federal Funding to States

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit regarding so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Amar argues that while the Second Circuit may have arrived at the correct conclusion of law, it also misunderstood the Supreme Court’s decision in NFIB v. Sebelius, in which the Court struck down the “Medicare expansion” provision of the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutionally coercive. Amar points out that in Sebelius, the Court found the fact that the Medicare expansion provision of the ACA vitiated the terms of a preexisting deal was sufficient to hold that provision coercive.

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