Analysis and Commentary on Government

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.

The North Carolina Legislature’s Power Grab is Unfair and Undemocratic. Is it Also Illegal?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the recent actions by the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature stripping the newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper of much of the power of his office. Dorf explains some of the potential legal challenges to this legislative action and argues that this reckless attitude is a danger to democracy.

Trump Should Work With Democrats on an Infrastructure Plan

George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why President-elect Donald Trump should work with Democrats to achieve the infrastructure plan he described during his campaign. As Buchanan argues, Trump can benefit politically from an infrastructure spending bill in ways that he would not if he were to focus instead on regressive tax cuts or changing international trade policy.

The Many Faces of Backlash

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies considers how the politics of quiescence and backlash might manifest itself in the areas of criminal justice and national security. As to national security, Margulies predicts that backlash will be particularly potent, but as to criminal justice, his poor decisions that disproportionately affect poor people of color will unable to generate the same political resonance.

Liberal Activism in the Age of Trump

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf shares some of the lessons he has learned as a vegan animal rights advocate, and explains how they apply to other policy areas. In particular, Dorf argues that in order to build a world in which presidential candidates do not pander to humanity’s basest otherizing instincts, we should aim to persuade our fellow humans of our point of view, not merely to organize to outvote them.

Constitutional Lessons From Comey’s Unwise “October Surprise” Decision to Comment on Clinton Investigation Yet Again

Illinois law dean and law professor Vikram David Amar describes three takeaway lessons from FBI Director James Comey’s decision to comment on the ongoing Clinton email investigation a second time. Amar argues that (1) with respect to investigators, sometimes less formal independence means more latitude to act out, (2) the FBI director should not operate outside of DOJ bounds, and (3) the DOJ policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations arises from the Constitution.

Two Big Legal Misconceptions That Have Recently Arisen in the Presidential Race

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and California civil litigation attorney Michael Schaps address two common misconceptions about the relationship between criminal law and politics that recently arose in the presidential race. Amar and Schaps explain first why the presumption of innocence does not apply to politics, and second, why the president actually does have the power to order prosecutions.

The Re-making of America’s Cities by Religious Organizations and the Department of Justice

Marci Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania, denounces the involvement of the federal government in local land use issues through the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Hamilton argues that RLUIPA incorrectly treats neutral, generally applicable land use decisions identically with discriminatory land use decisions.

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 U... 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 country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... 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