Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
Democracy and the Tribal Blame Machine

Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies describes the tribal blame machine, which both sides use to demonize the “other” side and drive us apart. Professor Margulies argues that a mature democracy must reject the tribal blame machine and instead embrace a fair, sober, even-handed appraisal of the facts, free from hyperbole and pot-banging.

Justice Alito’s Opinion on Abortion: Not Just the End of Reproductive Rights, But the Downfall of Fundamental Civil Liberties Guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to All Americans

In this second of a series of columns on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., attorney Jon May argues that the decision threatens certain fundamental rights conferred by the Fourth Amendment. Mr. May predicts that those rights will not withstand the onslaught of law enforcement conduct in entering and searching our homes without a warrant, invading our private thoughts and associations found on our smart phones and computers, or stopping and searching us on the streets without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

The Peculiar Historical Methodology of the SCOTUS Handgun Carry Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the Supreme Court’s opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen invalidating a New York law restricting licenses to carry concealed handguns to persons able to demonstrate a “special need” for one. Professor Dorf explains that the majority opinion adopts a methodology that focuses exclusively on history, which he argues could make it nearly impossible for government to protect people from new threats due to gun violence.

Social Security’s Good News is Good News

UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan comments on the recent announcement that under one scenario, the depletion date of the Social Security trust funds is now one year later than previously predicted—now 2035. Professor Buchanan explains the significance of this announcement—that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s visionary program will continue (for now) to protect all generations of Americans despite efforts of Republican autocrats to destroy it.

The Supreme Court Further Dismantles the Establishment Clause, Empowers Religious Parents to Obtain Taxpayer Funds for Sectarian Schools, and Ignores the Rights of the Children in Carson v. Makin

University of Pennylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week in Carson v. Makin, in which it held the Free Exercise Clause requires Maine to subsidize religious private schools because it subsidized non-religious private schools. Professor Hamilton argues that the decision further erodes the Establishment Clause and disregards the rights and needs of children.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act Formula Comes Full Circle in Florida

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton comments on the recent news that the Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, a Jewish synagogue in Florida, has sued the state under the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) over its new restrictive abortion laws that it argues violate their religious faith. Professor Hamilton praises the synagogue for leading the charge against an oppressive minority but condemns the tool it must use to do so—RFRA— which Hamilton argues is a tried-and-true path to religious division and mutual intolerance.

Justice Alito’s Opinion on Abortion: Not Just a Threat to Reproductive Rights, but to All Constitutional Liberties Not Expressly Set Out in the Constitution

Attorney Jon May argues that the reasoning of Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked majority draft of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org. poses a threat not only to reproductive rights, but to all constitutional liberties not expressly enumerated in the Constitution. Mr. May points out that the radical departure of Justice Alito’s opinion could pave the way for the Court to overturn numerous rights recognized over the past seventy years deriving from the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

How and Why Justice Breyer (and Other Justices) Should Weigh in on the Independent-State-Legislature Notion Before Breyer Retires

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should put the so-called Independent State Legislature (ISL) theory to rest sooner rather than later. Specifically, Dean Amar suggests that Justice Stephen Breyer—who is set to retire but who joined Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter in expressly rejecting ISL in 2000—should be among the voices to condemn the unsupportable theory.

Some Questions for the Alito Five

In light of Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., which would overrule Roe v. Wade and its progeny, UChicago Law professor emeritus Albert W. Alschuler and Harvard Law professor emeritus Laurence H. Tribe ask six questions of the apparent five-Justice majority. Professors Alschuler and Tribe point out some of the inconsistencies and illogic of the opinion and call on the Justices to account for these issues.

Are Religious Abortions Protected?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explores a suggestion by some pro-choice advocates that a “religious abortion” might serve as a workaround to the apparently imminent demise of the constitutional right to abortion. Professor Colb explains why that workaround is unlikely to prevail: the current Court discounts the Establishment Clause, and its ostensible embrace of the Free Exercise Clause is actually friendliness only to conservative Christianity (and to Judaism and Islam where the traditions happen to be the same).

A Speech Those Grieving For Uvalde’s Children Would Like to Hear

Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut writes a hypothetical speech that, unfortunately, those grieving the suffering and loss of life from the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, will likely never hear from their elected officials. In the speech, Mr. Aftergut rhetorically points out that the speaker’s approach is common sense yet also highly unlikely to be embraced by those with the power to do so.

Middle-Ground Possibilities in Dobbs? A Few Arguments From “Political Reliance”

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar describes a few (albeit unlikely) ways in which the Supreme Court could more moderately rule in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., rather than outright striking down Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (which a majority seems poised to do), or upholding them (which three Justices almost certainly support). Dean Amar explains the doctrine of “political reliance” and how it could lead the Court either to “return” the abortion question to the states to legislate (rather than having unenforced pre-Roe statutes to spring back to life), or to “sunset” the abortion right, giving the public time to account for the change in law.

The Court Seems Poised to Decide Soon Whether to Take Up the “Independent-State-Legislature” (ISL) Notion and (Hopefully) its Textual Nuances

In anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court likely deciding soon to review a case presenting the question of the legitimacy of the “Independent State Legislature” (ISL), Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar explains why the theory necessarily fails unless its proponents make up the meaning of Article II of the Constitution without regard to its words or historical context. Dean Amar argues that the notion of ISL does not work for Article I or Article II, but it certainly does not work for Article II under the textual approach employed by its proponents.

Can Finality Be More Important Than Justice Even If It Means Executing the Innocent?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Shinn v. Ramirez, in which the Court held that federal judges may not intervene in state cases to protect the Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel, even when there is evidence evidence that the condemned might be actually innocent. Professor Sarat points out that the decision demonstrates the conservative Justices’ prioritization of finality over justice and serves only to further erode confidence in and support for capital punishment in this country.

A New Answer to an Old Question

Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains why, when asked how he can defend someone accused of horrible crimes, he no longer uses the response that most criminal defense lawyers use—that a lawyer doesn’t defend their client’s behavior but instead holds the government to its burden by zealously defending their client’s rights. Instead, Professor Margulies responds to that question that he is defending the client’s humanity against society’s impulse to reduce a defendant to their deed, imprisoning them in their past.

Where, If Anywhere, Should People Protest Judicial Decisions?

In light of the leaked Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org. and the resulting protests in front of the homes of some of the Justices, Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers where, if anywhere, protests against judicial decisions are appropriate. Professor Dorf notes that under current law, the First Amendment as currently construed by the Supreme Court seems to protect a right to peaceable protest near the home of a judge or Justice so long as: (a) the protesters merely pass by but do not linger at the home; and (b) they do so without the intent to intimidate. However, Professor Dorf also points out that such protest might not always be tactically prudent.

Time, the Execution Process, and the Botched Lethal Injection of Clarence Dixon

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the recent botched execution of Clarence Dixon in Arizona, pointing out that the repeated efforts to place the IVs demonstrate that lethal injection is not a humane process. Professor Sarat describes the importance of time in the execution process and argues that courts assessing the start time of an execution (for purposes of Eighth Amendment challenges and Double Jeopardy challenges) should start the clock from the moment of the first physical invasion of the inmate’s body, contrary to the Ohio Supreme Court’s determination that the insertion of IV lines is “merely a ‘preparatory’ step to the execution.”

Can Illinois Require Gas Stations to Advertise on Its Behalf?

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar comments on a new Illinois law that would require gas stations to advertise that the state has deferred an increase in the state gas tax. Dean Amar explains why the chances of gas stations prevailing in a federal constitutional challenge to the law are unlikely but not impossible.

Wake Up Good People: Overruling Roe v. Wade Is Just One of the Three Fronts in the Religious War Against America

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describes three fronts in the war by religious conservatives against America: (1) the fight against abortion and contraception, supported by a minority of Americans, (2) a demand that those who share the same religious beliefs should be above the law, and (3) a demand that religious entities be treated “equally” with any others receiving government dollars. Professor Hamilton calls upon the majority of Americans—including congresspeople—who don’t share these beliefs to act and vote, and to stop deferring to religious actors before they turn our country into a theocracy.

Why the North Carolina Berger Voter ID Case Pending in the U.S. Supreme Court Would Benefit from Certification to the State High Court: Part Two in a Series

In this second of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone describe the facts and law giving rise to Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, a North Carolina voter ID case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone argue that the case highlights the importance of the legal procedure of certification and suggest that if the Court’s decision falls back on the traditional model of singular executive-branch representation embraced by the federal system and that of other states, the North Carolina legislature will have only itself to blame.

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

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

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 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