Analysis and Commentary on Government

Constitutional Democracy, Trust, and Self-Restraint: The Destructive Consequences of Republicans’ Opportunism

University of Florida Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan laments the current precarious situation of our constitutional democracy. He argues that a constitutional democracy becomes unsustainable and ultimately dies when a party abuses and changes the system to maintain its power, which he observes Republicans are doing now.

Did the Trump Justice Department Seek to Change its Legal Team in the Census Case Because the Original Lawyers Refused to Lie?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent back-and-forth involving the Department of Justice seeking to place a new legal team on the Trump administration’s effort to justify the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Dorf points out that whoever ends up representing the administration, this attempted withdrawal may shed light on the merits of the case and the lengths to which the President and those who serve him are willing to go for the citizenship question.

“Pretext” and Review of Executive Decisionmaking in the Citizenship Census Question Case

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire, arguing that courts should not get involved in determining whether agency action is based on “pretext.” Rather, Estreicher suggests that this particular case was highly unusual and that the Court’s decision should be limited accordingly.

You Can’t Have Your Meat and Eat It Too: “Big Ag’s” Conflicting Positions About Regulating New Food Technologies

Jareb Gleckel, a third-year law student at Cornell Law, comments on the legal and regulatory issues that arise from new food technologies such as “cell-based meat”—which is derived from stem cells to create meat that is identical, at the cellular level, to animal flesh, but does not require the raising and slaughtering of animals. Gleckel explains why both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been asked to exercise jurisdiction over this cell-based meat and argues that, given the position of “Big Ag” that the USDA should regulate cell-based meat, cell-based meat companies therefore have the right to call their products “slaughter-free meat,” “cruelty-free meat,” “antibiotic-free meat,” or even simply “meat.”

Elected Dictators? The Limits of What Government Officials Can Do With Their Power

University of Florida Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan considers whether America, having elected Donald Trump, must consequently accept everything he does as “democracy at work.” Buchanan argues that constitutional processes exist not only to protect democracy not only in word but also in spirit, and that extreme consequences of legal action can still threaten the future of democracy.

New York Lawmakers Take Aim at Trump

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether two New York bills—one that requires state and local officials to provide congressional committees with the President’s state and local tax records upon request, and the other that would permit the state to prosecute an individual for conduct that was presidentially pardoned—set a dangerous precedent for state interference with federal action. Dorf argues that these bills provide a permissible form of diagonal checks and balances between the branches of the state and federal government and do not raise constitutional concerns.

When, If Ever, Should a Legislature Be Able to Enact a Law that it Knows (or Should Know) that Courts Today Would Invalidate?

Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone considers whether (and when) a legislature should pass laws that court are likely to invalidate under current precedent. Amar and Mazzone argue that when legislatures enact laws that are at the time unenforceable, the legislatures are not necessarily wasting legislative resources or defying constitutional limits, but sometimes helpfully informing the work of other governmental actors and guide the resolution of constitutional issues

Complicity in Trump’s Bogus Emergency

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency after Congress denied him most of the funding he requested for a border wall. Dorf describes the legal framework that allows the president to do so even in the absence of an emergency and points out that combined actions of Congress, the courts, and the People have created this situation.

Justifying External Support for Regime Change in Venezuela

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recognition by the United States and some other constitutional democracies of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader pending new elections. Dorf points out that many countries suffer under incompetent, corrupt, and authoritarian leaders just as Venezuela did under Nicolás Maduro, yet constitutional democracies typically do not rally behind the ouster of those leaders. What makes Maduro’s case different?

Not an Administrative Law Bang but a Whimper

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on Kisor v. Wilkie, a case currently before the US Supreme Court that raises the narrow question whether a court should accept an interpretation by the Department of Veterans Affairs of its own technical regulation but also gets at a broader question of judicial deference more generally. Estreicher argues that when agencies interpret their own regulations, courts should afford those interpretations only Skidmore respect, not the higher Chevron-style deference that has come to be commonplace.

How Should the Law Address Illicit Motives in the Age of Trump?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a case arising from the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire—a case the US Supreme Court had on its calendar for oral arguments until late last week, when the federal district judge issued an opinion and enjoined the government from including the question. Despite the original issue presented in the case (a technical one about the scope of discovery) being made moot by the district court opinion, Dorf discusses the remaining and greater issue of how to discern and address illicit government motives.

Federal Lawsuit Tests Constitutionality of Arizona Statute for Filling US Senate Vacancy Created by John McCain’s Death: Part One in a Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a lawsuit filed in federal court in Arizona that challenges the way state officials are handling the vacancy in the US Senate created by Senator John McCain’s death four months ago. Amar explains the basis of the lawsuit and discusses the sparse case law on point that may determine the outcome of the lawsuit.

How Bad Will Things Become? Part Seven: Goodbye, New Deal and Great Society?

GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan continues his series of columns considering how much damage the US Supreme Court will inflict after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Drawing upon the nation’s experience with a conservative Court during the Lochner era, Buchanan predicts that one of the most consequential results of Republicans’ theft of a Supreme Court seat could be to seriously undermine one or more of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Trump’s—and the GOP’s—Hat Trick of Falsehoods About Pre-Existing Conditions

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf debunks President Trump’s claim that he has kept his campaign promise to “protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions.” Dorf provides three primary reasons that the claim is dishonest: the administration’s position in a pending lawsuit; the GOP’s proposed alternative, which does not require insurance companies to offer policies that actually cover pre-existing conditions, and the claim that Democratic support of Medicare for All is “radical socialism.”

The Future of the American City: Part Two

In this second of a four-part series about a new approach to community well-being, Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the problem of displacement. Margulies points out that influx of capital is not necessarily bad for community well-being but distinguishes gentrification, which can be good, from displacement, which is harmful to communities.

Could the Conservative Attack on the Administrative State be Good for Net Neutrality—and for Progressive Regulation More Generally?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf anticipates the possible next steps in the federal government’s lawsuit against California over the state’s new law mandating net neutrality. Dorf explains why, if conservative scholars and Supreme Court justices succeed in what seems to be their goal of weakening federal regulatory agencies, that could ironically be a boon to net neutrality and to government regulation more broadly.

The United States Olympic Committee and the USA Gymnastics NGB Need to Be Dissolved and Reconstituted

Marci A. Hamilton, professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania, calls upon Congress to dissolve and reconstitute the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics due to their inept handling of child sex abuse within those organizations. Hamilton points out that private organizations have boards of directors who shoulder responsibility for correcting actions of their organizations, but Congress must act when the bad actors are within national governmental bodies (NGBs) such as USOC and USA Gymnastics.

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

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 Robert A. Fox Leadership Program 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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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