Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—discusses the crisis the COVID-19 pandemic is having on America’s jails and prisons. Sarat argues that early release is a good start, but it cannot be the only solution, because all people, in and out of prisons, deserve to be treated with dignity.
University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton argues that the President does not have the power to order states to open houses of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hamilton discusses the limitations on federal power with respect to states and religious entities and praises the wise members of the clergy who are resisting opening before it is safe.
Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar explains why it is unconstitutional for state bars to favor in-state law schools when deciding who may sit for the state bar exam while complying with social distancing requirements, based on the Supreme Court’s precedents on the dormant Commerce Clause.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, which raises the question how broadly to construe the word “minister” within the ministerial exception to anti-discrimination law required by the First Amendment. Colb explains where the ministerial exception doctrine might be headed and suggests that an exemption even for criminal misconduct against ministers might be within the existing doctrine.
In this second of a series of columns about the COVID-19 protests, Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies argues, with some caveats, that workers have the moral authority to reopen their businesses in order to sustain themselves. Margulies notes that while he is not advising anyone to disobey the law (and while he personally supports the lockdown orders), business owners facing the impossible decision whether to follow the law or sustain themselves and their families are morally justified in defying the stay-at-home orders.
Joanna L. Grossman, law professor SMU Dedman School of Law, and Cynthia Thomas Calvert, principal of Workforce 21C and a senior advisor for family responsibilities discrimination to the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings, comment on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals by the Eleventh Circuit protecting the rights of a pregnant worker. Grossman and Calvert describe the lower court’s ruling and the appellate court’s decision reversing it, calling the decision “a step forward for the rights of pregnant women.”
Austin Sarat— Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on the decision by the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court halting the state’s stay at home order. Sarat points out that the opinion recapitulates, without acknowledgment, debates in analytic jurisprudence about the distinction between orders and rules, and he argues that while the decision may be good for the Trump campaign, it puts at risk the lives and well-being of Wisconsin’s citizens.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein comment on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that raises the question whether a religiously neutral student-aid program in Montana that affords students the choice of attending religious schools violates the religion clauses or the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Amar and Brownstein express no opinion as to whether the courts’ often-expressed concerns about striking down invidiously motivated laws can be effectively overcome, but they contend that jurists who reject invalidating invidiously motivated laws must explain why reasons sufficient in other contexts are not persuasive in this case.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on the oral argument the U.S. Supreme Court heard on Monday in the combined cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, which bring before the Court the question of the ministerial exception. Griffin explains that the ministerial exception is an affirmative defense that keeps the facts of a case from ever going to a judge or a jury and argues that a broad construction of the exception—as advocated by the religious employers in those cases—would be devastating to the careers of thousands of Americans teaching our children and caring for our sick in religious organizations across the country.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone assess President Trump’s suggestion that federal aid to state and local governments might be conditioned on their willingness to abandon their “sanctuary” policies and assist the federal government in immigration enforcement. Although Amar and Mazzone expect those federal spending conditions not to be realized, they use the President’s comment to list and describe some unanswered fundamental constitutional questions in the conditional spending arena.
Associate Dean for Research & Scholarship and Professor of Law at Touro Law Rodger D. Citron comments on three cases coming up for oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. Citron observes that if the other eight justices vote along ideological lines, Chief Justice John Roberts will cast the deciding vote in those pivotal cases.
Michigan Law dean emeritus Evan Caminker discusses a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in which that court held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause secures schoolchildren a fundamental right to a “basic minimum education” that “can plausibly impart literacy.” Caminker—one of the co-counsel for the plaintiffs in that case—explains why the decision is so remarkable and why the supposed dichotomy between positive and negative rights is not as stark as canonically claimed.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court deferring deciding on a Second Amendment issue presented by a New York City law that prohibited gun owners from transporting their guns out of the city. Sarat points out that the issue that divided the Court’s conservative justices in this case was not whether to radically expand the protections of the Second Amendment, but when and how to do so.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday in Ramos v. Louisiana, in which it held that the federal Constitution forbids states from convicting defendants except by a unanimous jury, Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the Court’s jurisprudence on retroactivity. Dorf highlights some costs and benefits of retroactivity and argues that the Court’s refusal to issue advisory opinions limits its ability to resolve retroactivity questions in a way that responds to all the relevant considerations.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies observes that the COVID-19 pandemic reveals our shared equality as individuals but also lays bare the inequality of American society. Margulies argues that equality is an outcome achieved by one in aid to another, and by government in aid to all in need.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent per curiam decision staying an injunction by a federal district court in Wisconsin, effectively allowing the election in that state to go forward on with the normal timeline for casting ballots in place, despite concerns over the effects of COVID-19. Amar and Mazzone argue that, while the outcome might have been unjust, the plaintiffs in that case likely did not allege a constitutional violation and thus did not properly allege claims suitable to be remedied in federal court.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin points out ways in which religions harm people—manifested today as an insistence on exemptions to social COVID-19 distancing orders. Griffin argues that telling the truth about religion should not be viewed as a form of discrimination and endorses Katherine Stewart’s recent book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, which provides a detailed explanation of how the Religious Right has used its power to advance religion-based government in harmful ways.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on language in a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Allen v. Cooperdiscussing constitutional stare decisis in the context of state sovereign immunity. Amar points out some of the problems with the Court’s jurisprudence on state sovereign immunity and Congress’s Section 5 power, and he questions the Allen majority’s embrace of a “special justification” requirement for constitutional stare decisis.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that governors and lawmakers should not be granting religious exemptions to stay-at-home orders imposed due to COVID-19. Hamilton points out that there are two prerequisites for legitimate religious exemptions, and the exemptions granted in twelve states have met neither.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, criticizes the Trump administration’s failure to adequately handle the national coordination of efforts to get the COVID-19 crisis under control. Hamilton points out that the Framers of the Constitution anticipated that the country would face emergencies and intentionally consolidated power in a single President to make decisions to unify and protect the nation.