Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
There Should Be a Right to Counsel Throughout the Execution Process

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that there should be a constitutional right to counsel throughout the execution process, particularly given the frequency with which serious errors occur during that time. Professor Sarat calls upon courts to recognize that the execution process is a “critical stage” of a criminal proceeding deserving the defendant’s right to legal representation.

The Injustice, Insincerity, and Destabilizing Impact of the SCOTUS Turn to History

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent cases demonstrate that the Supreme Court’s self-professed originalists are acting in bad faith, knowing that professed originalism is no more than a rhetorical envelope they can stuff with their conservative policy views. Professor Dorf explains why the Court’s new test of “text, history, and tradition” is unjust, insincere, and destabilizing.

Alabama’s Plan to Execute Kenneth Smith May Be Legal, But It Is Not Just

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the case of Kenneth Smith, whom Alabama plans to execute by lethal injection on November 17 based on a judge’s decision overriding a jury’s determination that he be sentenced to life in prison rather than death. Professor Sarat explains why such judicial override cases are so unjust, particularly given that Alabama has repealed judicial override (but not retroactively).

Justices Ponder Implications of California’s Humane Welfare Standards for Pigs

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the oral argument in National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) v. Ross, in which the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether California’s Proposition 12 violates the dormant Commerce Clause. Professor Dorf observes that based on their questioning, the Justices are concerned about the case’s implications for other types of regulations based on a state’s moral interests and may seek a procedural “out” to avoid deciding the difficult question.

Is Justice Kagan Right that Areas of Constitutional Law Should Not Change Quickly on Account of New Membership on the Court?

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone comment on recent comments by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan expressing reservations about doctrinal changes attributable to the arrival of new Justices. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone argue that new Justices have played an important and generally positive role in advancing the constitutional landscape.

Congress Should Protect Voluntary Affirmative Action in Private Colleges and Universities

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains how Congress can (and argues that it should) protect affirmative action in private colleges and universities in light of the supermajority of the Supreme Court that seems hostile to affirmative action. Professor Dorf points out that even if his suggestion seems far-fetched in the current political climate, urgent calls for action now can effectively arm advocates to effect change when they are better positioned to do so in the future.

The Supreme Court’s Cold Indifference in Alabama Death Penalty Case

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on Alabama’s recent aborted execution of Alan Miller. Professor Sarat describes how the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Miller’s execution to go forward despite a serious dispute about whether Miller submitted a form electing an execution method other than lethal injection.

Federal Judge Accepts Extravagant Complicity Claim to Exempt Company from Obligation to Provide Lifesaving Medicine

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by a federal district judge in Texas holding that a for-profit corporation was entitled to an exception from the legal obligation to provide employees with health insurance covering pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which protections against infection with HIV/AIDS. Professor Dorf explains the absurdity of the court’s conclusion, which is based on an extension of the Supreme Court’s dubious logic in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

If Originalism Is Going to Be Displaced, Critics Must Do Better than Dean Chemerinsky Seems to Be Doing

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone respond to several points about originalism made by Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky in a recent article published in The Atlantic. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone explain why three claims in particular—that originalism is an “obscure legal theory” only a few decades old, that judicial review in the federal courts is anti-originalist, and that accurately determining original meaning is “impossible.”

SCOTUS Animal Welfare Case Could Implicate State Power to Ban Abortion Pills

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court involving a challenge by the pork industry to a California law—Proposition 12—that was adopted by referendum in 2018. Professor Dorf explains why Supreme Court should uphold Prop 12 against the plaintiffs’ “dormant” Commerce Clause claims, and he considers the implications of that holding on state power to ban abortion pills from other states.

What Does it Mean for Other Institutions to “Defy” or “Check” the Supreme Court? Not What the Court Invites Those Institutions to Do

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone respond to a recent column by New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, arguing that neither of the recent high-profile developments after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision is an example of “defying” the Court or “checking” judicial power. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone point out that while neither the abortion vote in Kansas nor the pending federal marriage-equality proposal may fairly be characterized as “defying” or “checking,” some political reactions to Supreme Court rulings in the past arguably have involved defiance or disobedience of the Court.

Alito and the Free Exercise of Christianity

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s July 28 keynote address at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit in Rome, Italy. Professor Colb explains why Alito’s characterization of the Holocaust as a denial of religious liberty is untrue and misleading, and she points out that he uses his position of power to impose a specific brand of Christianity on unwilling people.

What the Divided Argument in the SCOTUS Affirmative Action Cases Could Mean

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the possible significance of the Supreme Court’s decision to divide, rather than consolidate, argument in the affirmative action cases it will be deciding next term. Professor Dorf suggests the decision would allow Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to participate in one of the cases and could also allow the Court to attend to at least two important factual and legal differences between the two cases.

Why the Clean Air Act’s Special Treatment of California Is Permissible Even in Light of the Equal-Sovereignty Notion Invoked in Shelby County

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar explains why the Clean Air Act’s provision allowing California to set its own air-pollution standards does not violate the notion of equal sovereignty. Dean Amar notes that the equal sovereignty idea as applied in Shelby County v. Holder is likely wrong, but even assuming it is correct, he argues it does not apply to the Clean Air Act because (1) the Clean Air Act was enacted under Congress’s Commerce Clause powers, a provision that does not require geographic uniformity, and (2) the alleged inequality disfavors the many, rather than the few.

Updates on Lawsuits against Religions

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on three recent cases involving lawsuits against religious employers by former employees. Professor Griffin explains the facts and outcomes of each case and argues that the expansive ministerial exception doctrine permits employers to discriminate at will simply by labeling employees as “ministers.”

To Be or Not to Be a Mother: A Timeless Question with New Urgency

In this second of a series of columns on the Supreme Court’s decision that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and Stanford Law professor Lawrence M. Friedman describe how abortion law arose alongside the eugenics movement. As Professor Grossman and Friedman explain, early abortion restrictions were, in part, an effort to encourage the “right” people to have babies (positive eugenics), used in conjunction with negative eugenics, which involved forced sterilization of people deemed “unfit.”

Dobbs Double-Cross: How Justice Alito Misused Pro-Choice Scholars’ Work

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminating the constitutional right to abortion misused pro-choice scholars’ work in an attempt to justify overturning Roe Casey. Professor Dorf observes that by pointing readers to the body of work by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Professor John Hart Ely, and other pro-choice scholars, Justice Alito effectively calls attention to their robust defense of abortion rights as essential to sex equality and an account of how the current hyper-conservative Court’s rulings are profoundly illegitimate.

Roe and Dobbs as Defining Cases for the Supreme Court and the Justices Who Wrote the Majority Opinions

Touro Law professor Rodger D. Citron argues that just as Roe v. Wade is the representative case of Justice Harry Blackmun’s tenure on the Supreme Court, so too will Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization become the emblematic decision of its author, Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. Professor Citron analyzes the differences between the two decisions and the Justices who authored them, and what those differences mean about the Court that decided each of those cases.

On the Tenth Anniversary of Miller v. Alabama, Much Work Remains to End Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences

In light of 2022 marking the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, Amherst professor Austin Sarat points out how important that decision was and how much still remains to be done to stop juvenile life without parole (LWOP) sentences. Professor Sarat points out that with the scientific recognition that the development of the human brain is not complete until a person is in their 20s, it does not make sense to treat child offenders the same way we treat adult offenders.

(Yet) Another Reason ISL Theory is Wrong About the Meaning of the Term State “Legislature”: The Constitution’s References to the Federal Counterpart—“Congress”

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision to grant review of a North Carolina partisan gerrymandering dispute involving the Independent State Legislature (ISL) theory, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar offers yet another reason that the theory is critically flawed. Although Dean Amar has described in numerous publications why ISL theory is illogical and atextual, he newly observes that the Constitution uses another term—“Congress”—to refer at times to the legislative body and other times to the lawmaking process, inclusive of presidential involvement.

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

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