Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
New Texas Abortion Statute Raises Cutting-Edge Questions Not Just About Abortion but About the Relationship Between State and Federal Courts

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone analyze some of the issues presented by a new Texas anti-abortion statute that is to be enforced entirely by private plaintiffs. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone explore the unusual characteristics of the law and describe some approaches opponents might take—and indeed Whole Woman’s Health (WWH) has already filed a lawsuit in federal court that seems to follow an approach the authors describe.

The Real Issue in the Puerto Rican Cockfighting Case Before the Supreme Court

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recently filed petition in the U.S. Supreme Court presenting the question whether Congress had the constitutional authority to ban cockfighting in Puerto Rico. Professor Dorf explains why the Court is unlikely to agree to hear the case, but he points out that the case presents a broader issue of laws that proscribe one unpopular form of cruelty to animals (e.g., cockfighting), even as the vast majority of the law’s supporters routinely demand animal products that come from the infliction of suffering on a much more massive scale—the meat and dairy industries.

The Troubling Implications of the SCOTUS Arizona Voting Rights Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, in which the Court upheld along ideological lines two Arizona voting laws, one of which restricted who could collect mail-in ballots and the other of which invalidated votes mistakenly cast in the wrong district. Professor Dorf argues that even if the bottom line in Brnovich is correct, the legal analysis and the Court’s broad acceptance of Republican talking points about voter fraud portend ill for the future of American democracy.

The Pentagon Papers Case through the Mists of Time: Understanding the Court’s 6-3 Decision in the Most Important First Amendment Case Ever

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times Co. v. United States, known as the “Pentagon Papers” case, Touro Law professor Rodger D. Citron describes the Pentagon Papers litigation and shows how the whirlwind pace contributed to the lack of consensus in the Court’s decision. Professor Citron draws upon books by James C. Goodale and David Rudenstine and reminds us of the challenges and complications attendant to a case that is celebrated by many today as, in the words of Adam Liptak, “a potent vindication of press freedom.”

Reforming the Vatican’s Code of Canon law, #MeToo Insights, and Zero Tolerance

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on the recent overhaul of the Vatican’s Code of Canon law, pointing out areas in which it shows promise and also its possible shortcomings. Despite some features that warrant skepticism, Professor Wexler argues that the reforms reflect a serious reckoning with past scandals, evolving understandings of consent, and an attempt to use the criminal code to deter bad behavior both by sexual abusers and those who would protect them, rather than their victims.

Challengers to the Affordable Care Act Lose their Third Supreme Court Case: Will They Bring a Fourth?

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week rejecting a third legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether challengers could bring (and succeed on) a fourth. Professor Dorf explains why subsequent challenges are unlikely to succeed, pointing out that a nonexistent obligation (as the so-called individual mandate now is) cannot be unconstitutional.

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.

Can Philly and LGBTQs Still Win?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, in which the Court held that Philadelphia’s refusal to contract with Catholic Social Services for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agreed to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Professor Griffin joins numerous Catholic leaders in urging Catholic believers—a majority of whom support allowing LGBTQ couples to adopt children, contrary to CSS’s position in this case—to tell their leaders to support all families, including gay families.

Naomi Osaka, Disability Accommodations, and Platonic Essentialism

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers how the recent treatment of tennis player Naomi Osaka by the professional tennis establishment highlights key aspects of disability law. Professor Dorf argues that while reasonable people can disagree in many cases about what constitutes the “essence” of a sport for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), no one can plausibly argue that speaking to reporters at a press conference is in any way essential to playing tennis.

California Gun Decision Opens Another Front in the Culture Wars

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—comments on a recent decision by a federal district judge in San Diego striking down California’s statewide ban on assault weapons. Professor Sarat observes that regardless of the outcome of the appeals in this case, the country will remain deeply divided about things like COVID-19 restrictions and gun ownership while our political leaders and the judges they appoint continue to repeat the underlying antipathies animating these divisions.

Mrs. Billie B. McClure

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin reflects on one of the earliest litigated ministerial exception cases, in which Billie Marie Barrett McClure sued the Salvation Army in 1971 for providing men with superior housing benefits as compared to women. Professor Griffin describes how the language of the petition for certiorari in that case (which was denied) raised some of the very issues that the Court did not fully consider until Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, which it decided in 2012.

Series of Recent Statements from Rutgers University Illustrates the Complexity of Institutional Speech in Higher Education

Using recent statements from Rutgers University as an example, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar describes certain cautionary factors that high-level university administrators should bear in mind before engaging in institutional speech. Dean Amar explains the complexity of institutional speech in higher education and suggests that even well-intentioned speech can lead to unexpected criticism and responses.

The U.S. Supreme Court Takes a Step toward Defunding the Police

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Caniglia v. Strom, holding that police may not enter a private home to perform a “community caretaking” function without having a search warrant. Professor Colb suggests that by recognizing limits on the authority of law enforcement officers to enter a home without a warrant in these circumstances, the Court may be implicitly adopting the message of “defunding the police” by reallocating a non-police function to better-suited responders, such as social workers or mental health experts.

“Most Favored-Nation” (“MFN”) Style Reasoning in Free Exercise Viewed Through the Lens of Constitutional Equality:

In this second of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law professor emeritus Alan Brownstein continue their discussion of why the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) approach to the Free Exercise Clause of First Amendment is troubling on a number of levels. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein point out that an MFN-style approach is virtually guaranteed to cause geographical inequality because it relies upon fortuitous secular analogues.

What Facebook and its Oversight Board Got Right and Wrong in the Trump Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s announcement by the Facebook Oversight Board with its verdict regarding the company’s treatment of former President Donald Trump’s suspended account. Professor Dorf argues that the Board’s ruling makes sense in many respects, but makes two mutually exclusive demands of Facebook: clear rules for the sake of predictability and at the same time, flexibility for moderators to consider the individual context of a situation.

Exploring the Meaning of and Problems With the Supreme Court’s (Apparent) Adoption of a “Most Favored Nation” Approach to Protecting Religious Liberty Under the Free Exercise Clause: Part One in a Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law professor emeritus Alan E. Brownstein discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s apparent adoption of a “most favored nation” approach to protecting religious liberty under the Free Exercise Clause. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein describe some of the problems with this approach and point out that the reason religious exercise receives constitutional recognition and protection is not because the Constitution assigns some heightened value to religious belief and practices over secular interests, but because we do not want the state to interfere with religious choice and the autonomy of religious individuals to associate with a religion of their choice.

Will Biden Finally Neuter Republicans’ Debt Ceiling Demagoguery?

UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan responds to apparent plans by some Republicans to bring back the debt ceiling to obstruct the Biden administration. Professor Buchanan explains why that would be a bad idea and also why, if they do, President Biden might be able to kill the debt ceiling as a political issue.

Trashing the Playing Field: State Legislators Misguided Move to Ban Transgender Women and Girls from Competing in Women’s Sports

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and Stanford Law 1L Saraswati Rathod explain why recent efforts in various states to ban transgender women and girls from competing in women’s sports are dangerous and misguided. Professor Grossman and Ms. Rathod argue that the actions purport to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist, and they risk substantial harm to a vulnerable group of women and girls, as well as to women’s athletics across the board.

Why We Like Smith: We Want Neutral and General Laws to Prevent Harm

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin and University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describe how the current Supreme Court is furtively undermining neutral and general laws by embracing a so-called “most favored nation” theory. Professors Griffin and Hamilton explain that under this dangerous approach, otherwise neutral laws that might incidentally burden religious exercise (such as zoning laws or public health regulations) are constitutionally suspect if they create any exceptions for purportedly secular activities, and, they argue, this can result in legal discrimination and harms to groups including LGBTQ+ individuals, children, those with disabilities, and others.

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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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