Analysis and Commentary on Government
The Scope and Nature of the State Secrets Privilege

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on two cases the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided that involve the “state secrets privilege.” Professor Dorf argues that the cases demonstrate that the executive branch (regardless of whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat) will go as far as the courts allow with the public secrets privilege, so it falls to Congress to rein it in.

Bill Barr’s New Book: More Reputation Make-over Than Truth

Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut opines that former Attorney General William Barr’s forthcoming memoir glosses over Barr’s substantial role in Donald Trump’s effort to undermine democracy. Mr. Aftergut argues that Barr damaged the Justice Department’s reputation for integrity, and no memoir can make up for that.

The Supreme Court’s Stealth Attack on Expertise Helps Pave the Way for Authoritarianism

Amherst professor Austin Sarat and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut point out that in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Department of Labor, the conservative majority continues the right-wing assault on knowledge and expertise. Professor Sarat and Mr. Aftergut argue that the conservative attack on regulatory agencies and the expertise they represent is a classic indicator of creeping totalitarianism—the blurring of the distinction between fact and fiction.

What the January 6 Committee Can Do to Persuade Independent Voters

Amherst professor Austin Sarat explains why it is so important that the hearings by the House Select Committee on the events of January 6, 2021, be and appear to be fair. Professor Sarat argues that an atmosphere of fairness and seriousness, similar to that of the Watergate hearings in 1973, is necessary not only to persuade independents about what happened behind the scenes on January 6, but also to turn the committee’s findings into a voting issue.

A Year After the Capitol Insurrection, the Threat is Coming from Inside the Building

In light of the approaching one-year anniversary of the January 6 Capitol Insurrection, Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the next assault on American democracy could come from within the Capitol and other institutions of American democracy. Professor Dorf points out that the phrase “political violence” is an oxymoron in the context of a democracy; to practice democratic politics is to accept a common set of ground rules for resolving policy disputes peacefully, and when the loser of an election uses violence to try to change the result, democratic politics ceases functioning.

Statehood for D.C. Could Not Be Reversed

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan explains why, if the District of Columbia was recognized as a state, that recognition cannot later be reversed. Professor Buchanan argues that to reverse statehood would signal a slippery slope wherein Republicans would be empowered to go well beyond suppressing votes in swing states to instead removing statehood from regions with Democratic voters.

Capitol Police Officer Reminds Americans That Saving Democracy Requires Courage

Amherst College professor Austin Sarat and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comment on an interview of Capitol Police Officer Michael Byrd regarding his role defending against the January 6 riot, and on Donald Trump’s response to Byrd. Professor Sarat and Mr. Aftergut argue that Byrd’s interview reminds us that the best way to deal with a bully who is himself a coward is to call his bluff.

Dead Democracy Walking

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan describes the United States today as a “dead democracy walking”—walking with mortal wounds but not yet dead. While stating that he is open to the possibility of being proven wrong, Professor Buchanan explains why believes that Trump and Republicans have corrupted the American political system beyond repair, and he notes that his subsequent writings and analysis will proceed from the assumption that democracy will soon be dead in this country.

Coping with Constitutional Ignorance and Alienation

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—explains why ignorance of the Constitution is more consequential now than ever before, particularly coupled with increasing numbers of Americans who are indifferent or hostile toward democratic norms. Professor Sarat calls upon our leaders to take care to explain why our constitutional democracy is worth fighting for and to take up that fight every day.

Evaluating the Republican Federal Court Challenge to Illinois’s Recently Adopted Redistricting Plan

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone describe a lawsuit in which Republicans are challenging Illinois’s recently adopted redistricting plan. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone identify several obstacles the lawsuit may face, which, in their estimation, make it unlikely to succeed.

There Are Many Different Ways to Lose Our Democracy

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan describes the precarious situation of our democracy and notes that there are many necessary conditions for a constitutional republic to continue to operate, and because each is necessary, losing any of them would lead to the whole system crashing down. In this column, Professor Buchanan points out some of the many ways in which our nation could descend into autocracy.

Some Observations on Calls for Senate Reform: Part One of a Two-Part Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers four observations about recent calls for reform of the filibuster device in the U.S. Senate. Dean Amar suggests looking at state experiences with supermajority rules, as well as the Senate’s own recent past, and he considers why senators might be reluctant to eliminate the filibuster. He concludes with a comment on President Joe Biden’s suggestion that the Senate return to the “talking filibuster” and praises a suggestion by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) that the cloture requirement (currently at 60 votes) could be lowered gradually, the longer a measure under consideration is debated.

How Not to Criticize the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf responds to three broad-based objections by Republican opponents to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: (1) that the already-recovering economy doesn’t need stimulus; (2) that many of the Act’s provisions have nothing to do with COVID-19; and (3) that there will be waste, fraud, and abuse. Professor Dorf explains why these objections ring hollow and argues that while the Act is not perfect legislation and will likely face challenges in implementation, it is a much better option than anything Republicans were offering.

The Hidden Ideological Stakes of SCOTUS Patent Case

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf describes the ostensibly complex legal issues presented in United States v. Arthrex, Inc., in which the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument earlier this week, and explains how those issues reflect an ideological divide as to other, more accessible matters. Professor Dorf argues that although many conservatives would like to dismantle the modern administrative state, our complex modern society all but requires these government agencies, so conservatives instead seek to make them politically accountable through a Senate-confirmed officer answerable to the president, furthering the so-called unitary-executive theory of Article II.

Why the Biden Administration Was Right Earlier This Week to Change Course in the Obamacare Challenge Pending Before the Court

Illinois Law Dean Vikram David Amar comments on an unusual move by the U.S. Solicitor General’s office, sending a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court amending the position of the federal government in a case currently pending before the Court challenging the Affordable Care Act. Dean Amar explains why the arrival of a new administration should generally not trigger such position reversals, but he argues that the unusual circumstances—specifically the “exceptional implausibility” of the government’s prior filings—may justify the government’s action in this instance.

One More for the Road: Why Congress Must Impeach Donald Trump (Again)

Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, makes the case for impeaching Donald Trump again, after the failed insurrection of January 6. Falvy describes three possible ways to disempower Trump from undermining democracy in our nation and explains why immediate impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate is the most appropriate course of action.

To Our Elected Representatives in Congress: The Framers Wouldn’t Be Surprised a President Attempted a Coup, Just Disappointed You Didn’t Stop It Sooner

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, pens an open letter to members of Congress, describing Wednesday’s insurrection by pro-Trump extremists as predicable (even predicted) to the Framers and calling upon Congress to impeach and convict the President. Professor Hamilton argues that Donald Trump is the embodiment of what the Framers expected from rulers: self-centered corruption, greed, and no care for the common good.

Pardonne-Moi

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the assumptions inherent in the executive pardon power and explains why the purpose of the presidential pardon forecloses the possibility of a self-pardon. Colb argues that the only person who would dare to try to grant a self-pardon—one who lacks empathy—is the very one who should not be exercising the pardon power at all.

What Trump’s Pardons Reveal about Him and His Misunderstanding of Executive Clemency

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—describes how President Trump’s pardons reveal his “superficial and distorted” understanding of American values. Professor Sarat points out that for someone who claims to value the clemency power, President Trump has granted clemency fewer times than any President since William McKinley, who served from 1897 to 1901, and when Trump has granted clemency, he has used it to reward people whose crimes show their contempt for the rule of law.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... 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 Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law and Director of the Center of Labor and... 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

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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