Analysis and Commentary on Government
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.

D.C. Circuit Dismissal of Congressional Subpoena Lawsuit (Further) Erodes American Democracy

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit holding that federal courts could not enforce a congressional subpoena to former White House Counsel Don McGahn because federal courts cannot adjudicate interbranch disputes. Dorf describes some of the major flaws in the court’s reasoning and explains why the ruling is a clear victory for Donald Trump and a loss for the constitutional system.

Two Constitutional Lessons Worth Remembering: Norms Are Different From Legal Rules; And Improper Intent Matters But Is Hard To Establish

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the controversy surrounding President Trump’s tweets about the sentencing of Roger Stone, addressing the important differences between norms and legal rules. Amar points out that the motive underlying such presidential decisions is ultimately what determines whether the action is improper—and that such motives are notoriously difficult to establish.

The Real Insidious Part of Dershowitz’s Impeachment Defense

Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and Michigan Law dean emeritus Evan Caminker discuss Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz’s explanation of why he stands (virtually) alone in his views on impeachment—that all the scholars who disagree with him are biased partisans. Amar and Caminker explain why this claim is so insidious, with effects lasting well beyond the span of the current presidency.

Can a President Who Is Reelected After Being Acquitted in One Impeachment Case be Retried by a Subsequent Senate?

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar considers whether a President who has been impeached and acquitted may, if reelected, be retried by a subsequent Senate. Amar acknowledges that it is unclear whether the Fifth and Sixth Amendments’ criminal procedural protections apply to impeachment proceedings, but he offers two key reasons that re-litigation of impeachment allegations after presidential reelection would be improper.

Trump Administration Lawyer Asserts That a State Courthouse is no Different from a Burger King

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a lawsuit in which New York State and other plaintiffs are suing the federal government over an immigration policy of arresting undocumented immigrants when they appear in state court on unrelated matters. Dorf explains why the federal judge hearing the case should reject the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The Argentine Election and the Limits of the Peter Principle

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on Argentina’s national elections last month, in which the country elected as Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who had previously served as President of Argentina from 2007 to 2015. Dorf considers why Kirchner, and indeed anyone, would accept a lower position than what she has previously held. Dorf argues that due to the Peter Principle—which states that workers in a hierarchical organization tend to rise to their level of incompetence—we would do well as a society to abandon the whole concept of a demotion.

The Voters’ One True Power and Impeachment

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the present allegations against President Trump require representatives and senators to act in the interest of the voters and seek the truth. Hamilton explains that the checks and balances our Constitution’s framers put in place were designed for this very type of situation, and the power to impeach serves a vital role of protecting the people.

A Tale of Two Nixons: Executive Branch Officials Must Comply with House Subpoenas

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why U.S. Supreme Court cases—confusingly, Nixon v. United States and United States v. Nixon—together should foreclose any legal arguments that might have supported President Trump’s strategy to fight impeachment. Dorf explains each of the precedents and their bearing on today’s situation.

Is Actual Control Required for an Employer-Employee Relationship? The Case Law Suggests Otherwise

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and 3L Sara Spaur argue that the premise of a recent National Labor Relations Board proposed rulemaking—that an employer must exercise direct and immediate control over employees to be a joint employer under the National Labor Relations Act—is not supported by the common law, as is required. Estreicher and Spaur explain that the Restatements of Agency and four key cases support the opposite conclusion, that the test for employer status is not actual control, but simply the right to control employees.

Whatever Andrew Wheeler’s True Motives, He Deserves Praise for Moving EPA Away from Animal Testing

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a memorandum recently issued by Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that announced directives to substantially reduce government funding for and mandating of animal testing of chemicals to which humans might be exposed. Dorf acknowledges that Wheeler’s motivation might be the deregulation of industries that produce chemical products (a legitimate concern expressed by some public health and environmental groups), but Dorf argues that the policy is win-win-win: better for the animals spared experimentation; less costly to the public fisc; and better for human health.

The Fifth Circuit Pushes Pre-Enforcement Review Too Far in Barring the EEOC from Publishing Guidance on Title VII’s Regulation of Ex-Convict Employment Bars

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in which that court enjoined the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from publishing its guidance on the applicability of Title VII’s disparate impact analysis to employers’ use of criminal records in hiring decisions. Estreicher explains why the federal appeals court was incorrect in holding that the EEOC violated the notice-and-comment procedures for rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act.

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.

Big Little Truths About the 2018-19 Supreme Court Term

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar reflects on the decisions the U.S. Supreme Court issued at the end of its 2018–19 term. Amar observes three key trends at the Court: its focus on what constitutes improper government motive, concerns over broad congressional delegation to the executive, and tension over the meaning and theory of stare decisis.

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.

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