Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

You Can’t Have Your Meat and Eat It Too: “Big Ag’s” Conflicting Positions About Regulating New Food Technologies

Jareb Gleckel, a third-year law student at Cornell Law, comments on the legal and regulatory issues that arise from new food technologies such as “cell-based meat”—which is derived from stem cells to create meat that is identical, at the cellular level, to animal flesh, but does not require the raising and slaughtering of animals. Gleckel explains why both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been asked to exercise jurisdiction over this cell-based meat and argues that, given the position of “Big Ag” that the USDA should regulate cell-based meat, cell-based meat companies therefore have the right to call their products “slaughter-free meat,” “cruelty-free meat,” “antibiotic-free meat,” or even simply “meat.”

Elected Dictators? The Limits of What Government Officials Can Do With Their Power

University of Florida Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan considers whether America, having elected Donald Trump, must consequently accept everything he does as “democracy at work.” Buchanan argues that constitutional processes exist not only to protect democracy not only in word but also in spirit, and that extreme consequences of legal action can still threaten the future of democracy.

Use It or Lose It: The Supreme Court Gets a Procedural Point About Title VII Unanimously Right

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court clarifying a procedural point about Title VII and the requirements of employees filing discrimination claims in federal court. As Grossman explains, the Court’s opinion correctly minimizes the importance of a technical requirement of employees and might as a result provide greater protection to employees who suffer from workplace discrimination.

Does the Constitution Require the Insanity Defense?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses a question the U.S. Supreme Court will consider next term—whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits a state’s abolition of the insanity defense. Colb points out the various ways in which our current criminal justice system arbitrarily excuses some sources of criminal conduct but not others, and she argues that because of these inconsistencies already inherent in the system, the insanity defense cannot logically be required.

Justice Department Brief Calls for Invalidation of All of Obamacare Without Justification

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on the position in the Department of Justice recently took with respect to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as “Obamacare”), declining to defend any part of the Act in court. Estreicher argues that the DOJ’s position lacks justification and explains the weaknesses of the district court’s reasoning striking down the entire Act.

New York Lawmakers Take Aim at Trump

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether two New York bills—one that requires state and local officials to provide congressional committees with the President’s state and local tax records upon request, and the other that would permit the state to prosecute an individual for conduct that was presidentially pardoned—set a dangerous precedent for state interference with federal action. Dorf argues that these bills provide a permissible form of diagonal checks and balances between the branches of the state and federal government and do not raise constitutional concerns.

When, If Ever, Should a Legislature Be Able to Enact a Law that it Knows (or Should Know) that Courts Today Would Invalidate?

Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone considers whether (and when) a legislature should pass laws that court are likely to invalidate under current precedent. Amar and Mazzone argue that when legislatures enact laws that are at the time unenforceable, the legislatures are not necessarily wasting legislative resources or defying constitutional limits, but sometimes helpfully informing the work of other governmental actors and guide the resolution of constitutional issues

Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority Issues Another Atextual Ruling in a Sovereign Immunity Case

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, in which the conservative majority departed sharply from the brand of originalism that Justice Clarence Thomas (who authored the opinion) and his fellow conservatives purport to favor. Dorf points out the inconsistency of the Court’s conservative bloc criticizing liberal-leaning doctrine based on broad text in rights cases while simultaneously (as here) fashioning right-leaning doctrine from the murky materials of structure and history rather than text.

A Welcome Turn to Violence

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes several refreshing perspectives in the area of criminal justice reform that tackle the crucial and difficult issue of violent crime. By way of background, Margulies explains the simplistic and erroneous idea that drives the enormous (and enormously expensive) carceral state and explains the importance of recognizing humanity in order to begin to dismantle it.

Exactly What Are the Rules Concerning Supreme (or Other Federal) Court Review of Impeachment Proceedings?

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on President Trump’s recent tweet suggesting that if the Democrats were to try to impeach him, he would ask the Supreme Court to block the impeachment. Amar argues that while critics of that assertion are correct, the legal matter is more complicated than might appear at first blush.

Should Police Need a Search Warrant to Chalk Tires and Discover Illegal Parking?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit holding unconstitutional the use of chalk by police officers to track whether a parked car has remained longer than permissible. Colb considers whether the decision—which seems to faithfully apply the US Supreme Court’s decisions in Jones v. United States and Florida v. Jardines—falls short of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test the Court established in Katz v. United States. Colb proposes a test that instead combines trespass, information-gathering, as well as some privacy interest in that information, arguing that such a test would better reflect the scope of the Fourth Amendment.

SCOTUS LGBT Discrimination Case Will Test Conservative Commitment to Textualism

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on three cases in which the US Supreme Court recently granted review that together present the question whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Dorf points out that the cases pose a test for the Court’s conservative majority—whether they will keep faith with their textualist commitment and rule for the plaintiffs or instead follow their conservative social views and rule for the defendant employers.

Why Settled Precedent Prevents President Trump From Punishing Sanctuary Cities For Declining to Assist in Federal Immigration Policy

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why President Trump’s proposal that detained immigrants be relocated to sanctuary cities violates the Supreme Court’s precedent interpreting relevant constitutional provisions. Amar argues that even a conservative Supreme Court that defers to the Executive branch in matters of foreign affairs would likely not permit such action.

Clarence Thomas Speaks—And Arguably Contradicts His Longstanding Views

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the question Justice Clarence Thomas asked during oral argument in Flowers v. Mississippi potentially reflects a view inconsistent with one he and other conservative justices have strongly endorsed in the past. Dorf points out that Justice Thomas’s question, regarding the race of jurors struck by the defense counsel, suggests that discrimination against one group can cancel out discrimination against another, which is directly at odds with his expressed view that the Constitution forbids all government consideration of race.

Supreme Court Takes a Case About Jury Unanimity

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case in which the US Supreme Court recently granted review, Ramos v. Louisiana, which presents the question whether states may permit conviction of an accused criminal on less than a unanimous jury voting “guilty.” Colb explains the doctrine of incorporation—by which most provisions of the Bill of Rights are held to be applicable as against the states as well as the federal government through the Fourteenth Amendment—and explains the possible significance of a unanimous jury verdict.

Untethered Textualism in the Seventh Circuit’s Kleber Ruling on Age Bias in Hiring

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on a recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that purports to interpret the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) based on a textualist approach. Estreicher argues that the interpretation erroneously ignores the clear purpose of ADEA and constitutes a highly abstract interpretive venture that departs significantly from the legislators’ manifest intent.

Should Originalists Enforce Rights More Strictly Against the States Than Against the Federal Government?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf points out that, taken to its logical conclusion, the originalism philosophy espoused by US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should mean that the Constitution places stricter limits on states than it does on the federal government. As Dorf explains, the “original meaning” of the Bill of Rights as it applies to the states should refer to its meaning in 1868 (when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted) rather than 1791 (when the Bill of Rights itself was adopted) because the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Bill of Rights applicable to the states. Dorf describes several key differences between the understanding of the Bill of Rights in 1868 and 1791 and considers whether one of the originalist justices will follow where the logic of their philosophy leads.

A Police Shooting and the Power of Narratives

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes two different narrative lenses through which one could perceive (and interpret) the shooting of an unarmed African American man by a white police officer: the “Blue Lives Matter” narrative and the “Black Lives Matter” narrative. Colb explains how such narratives shape public reactions to such incidents, and she calls upon everyone to pay attention to the facts and feel less wedded to our narratives so that we may be better able to deal with and sometimes even prevent future hardship.

How Much Deference Will be Given to Affirmative Action Plans Fashioned by Students, and to Affirmative Action Plans More Generally? Part Three in a Series on the Challenge to Harvard Law Review’s Diversity Program

In this third and final column in a series about the legal challenge to Harvard Law Review’s diversity program, Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone consider how much deference courts should give to law reviews when they assert diversity as a basis for considering race and gender. Amar and Mazzone anticipate that even in the unlikely event that this lawsuit reaches the Supreme Court, any fundamental changes to existing affirmative action doctrine would likely require the Court to weigh in on multiple cases over an extended period.

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

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 Robert A. Fox Leadership Program 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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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