Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law

2017 SOL Reform Year in Review and How #MeToo Relates to Child Sex Abuse SOLs

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, reflects on the changes to civil and criminal statutes of limitations (SOLs) for child sex abuse across the United States in 2017, and points out how SOLs relate to the #MeToo movement exposing the breadth and pervasiveness of adult sexual assault and harassment. Hamilton praises the progress made over the past year and but calls upon legislators and politicians at all levels to take additional steps to protect children.

Did the Sexual Revolution Cause the Sexual Misconduct Revealed by #MeToo?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the claim by some people that the increase in accusations and occurrences of rape and other sexual misconduct is attributable to the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and mid-1970s. Colb points out that both rape and sexual misconduct existed well before the sexual revolution, and in fact the legal system until very recently either condoned or made it very difficult to prove rape (and categorically excluded the possibility of marital rape). In contrast, the sexual revolution was about liberating consenting adults to have sex with one another and giving women ownership over their own bodies.

The New Tax Law Punishes Blue States: Is That Constitutional?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether the new tax law, which disproportionally affects “blue” states as compared to “red” states due to changes to the deductions for state and local taxes (SALT), is unconstitutional. Dorf explains some of the possible arguments against the law but ultimately concludes that due to difficulties of proof, courts probably won’t end up ruling that the SALT deductibility cap violates the First Amendment or a core principle of federalism.

Why Justice Gorsuch May Have Avoided the Word “Privacy” at the Carpenter Oral Argument

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent oral argument in Carpenter v. United States, in which the US Supreme Court will consider whether the Fourth Amendment requires the government to obtain a warrant before demanding that a cell phone service provider reveal location data about a target’s phone for a certain period of time. Colb notes that during oral argument, the Court’s newest justice, Justice Neil Gorsuch, conspicuously avoided using the word “privacy”—a choice that Colb suggests reflects his views on substantive due process and the rights that flow from that constitutional principle, such as abortion and physician assistance in dying.

Reflections on America’s Reckoning with Sexual Harassment

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman reflects on the wave of stories of sexual harassment and assault that have come to light in 2017. Grossman points out that sexual harassment of women, particularly in the workplace, is not a new phenomenon, but the sheer number of women sharing their stories today has emboldened others to come forward, and may even signal a cultural shift to address this pervasive problem. Grossman argues that true change will only come when institutional actors decide to hold themselves accountable for the way women are treated.

Three Big Constitutional Lessons of 2017 That Are Not Fully Appreciated

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar describes three important constitutional takeaway lessons from 2017. First, improper motive is the key to attacking many government actions, but it is a difficult ground on which to succeed. Second, the US Supreme Court seems to take a different position from that of lower courts on a number of issues. Finally, many norms that people assume are enshrined in the Constitution are actually not.

Facebook Messenger Kids—Good for Whom?

University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on Facebook’s recently announced messenger app for kids. Ramasastry describes the key features of Facebook’s new program and explores the privacy and safety concerns that arise with this business model. She calls upon policymakers or advocacy groups to weigh in, as well, anticipating that this will not be the only business model aimed at kids in this manner.

Liberty and Equality Sometimes Require Tragic Choices, Just Not in Masterpiece Cakeshop

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before the US Supreme Court—in which the Court will decide whether a baker may refuse to serve a gay couple based on his religious beliefs—does not present a difficult choice between liberty and equality. Rather, Dorf points out, the baker’s free speech claim in this case should be relatively easy to reject because a cake without an articulate message on it does not constitute the “speech” of the person who made it.

Why Government?

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies points out that “the market” did not create any of the benefits to which most of us have come to feel entitled to—including workers’ compensation, mortgage interest deductions, veterans’ benefits, non-discrimination laws, and many more. Rather, the federal government created these things, and the government continues to play a critical and beneficial role in everyone’s lives, despite widespread sentiment that “government is bad.” Margulies looks specifically to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which is the primary reason affordable housing exists, albeit in lesser numbers than is currently needed, and points out that this and other critical services are at risk in the GOP tax bill.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop Oral Argument and the Fatal Flaw in the Bakers’ Free Speech Argument

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, reacts to the oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm’n, in which the Supreme Court will decide whether a Colorado baker may refuse to serve a same-sex couple on the basis that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Hamilton argues that lawyer for the baker, as well as the solicitor general arguing in support of the baker’s position in the case, took the nonsensical position that the cake serves as the baker’s speech in the couple’s private ceremony. Hamilton points out that the cake is actually the couple’s expression to each other and to those present at the ceremony, just as any other product is simply a product imbued only with the meaning intended by its purchaser.

Why “Believing Women” Has Been a Challenging Task

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why it is so difficult for society as a whole to believe women’s accounts of sexual assault and harassment. Colb argues that the first step in developing solutions is for society, and particularly men, to admit that many (if not all) of these claims are true, and once that happens, then one has to either say that such behavior is acceptable or unambiguously condemn the behavior. Assuming that one rightfully condemns the behavior, Colb points out that the next step is to investigate the claims and impose whatever penalties are appropriate.

Texas Strikes Out Again: Federal Court Halts Enforcement of Yet Another Unconstitutional Anti-Abortion Law

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by a federal court in Texas permanently enjoining the State of Texas from enforcing an unconstitutional anti-abortion law. Grossman provides a brief background of both Texas and the law at issue and explains why the federal court struck it down. Grossman points out that the clear weight of Supreme Court jurisprudence supports the district court’s reasoning and decision.

A Tax Deduction for Unborn Children: Should Pro-Choice Advocates Have Worried?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers a provision of the proposed statute in the House version of the latest tax reform bill that would have allowed expectant parents to take a tax deduction on college fund investments for their offspring. Colb notes the negative response to this provision among pro-choice advocates as a result of how the provision’s language equates a fetus with a child. While acknowledging the worry among abortion rights proponents that such wording might provide a legal foundation for future attempts to restrict women’s rights to terminate their pregnancies, Colb counters this concern by explaining why it is unlikely that the language in the tax bill would have any effect on the legal status of abortion.

A Dozen (or so) Thoughts on Senate Expulsion (With Special Reference to the Roy Moore Affair)

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers some thoughts on the divisive ongoing conversation about the possibility of the Senate voting to expel Senate candidate Roy Moore from Alabama, if he should win next month’s special election. Amar looks at the history of the practice of Senate expulsion, as well as some of the uncertainties that surround it.

Do Trump’s Attacks on CNN Render Unconstitutional the Justice Department’s Effort to Block AT&T’s Acquisition of Time Warner?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers how President Trump’s attacks on CNN affect the Justice Department’s efforts to block AT&T’s proposed purchase of Time Warner (by requiring AT&T to sell off Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN, or DirecTV). As Dorf points out, illicit intent can taint policies that without such intent would pass constitutional muster. Dorf explains why AT&T likely can meet the threshold of making a “credible showing of different treatment of similarly situated persons” to advance allegations of selective prosecution based on free speech.

The Russian Meddling in the 2016 Election: The Internet Meets the Democratic System

Professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Marci A. Hamilton calls upon social media giants, particularly Facebook, to act morally and implement safeguards to protect the democratic process, or else be regulated by Congress. Hamilton points out that Facebook has amassed more data about individual people than any other company in the world, and it should shoulder the burden of handling that data responsibly rather than for the pure purpose of profit.

The Changing Scope of the Freedom of Expression in the United States and Brazil

Guest columnists Igor De Lazari and Antonio Sepulveda, and Justia editor David S. Kemp compare and contrast the evolving recognition of the rights of LGB individuals in the United States and Brazil. The authors point to several parallel decisions by the high court of each nation, but they also point to ways in which the jurisprudence of the two countries might diverge—specifically when religious beliefs appear to conflict with the recognition of the rights of gays and lesbians.

Reflections on Insurrections

George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan considers the irony of the (hopefully remote) possibility that people might resort to violence to keep President Trump in power. Buchanan explains the “insurrectionist view” of the Second Amendment, which has never been credited by the Supreme Court, but which holds that the founders included the gun-related amendment in the Bill of Rights to prevent the federal government from running roughshod over the people. Buchanan points out the circular logic that under the insurrectionist view, the reason people need guns is to prevent the government from taking their guns.

The Need for Clearer Understanding of the Basic Federalism Doctrines Concerning Sanctuary Cities and Other Federal-State Flashpoints

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains the federalism doctrines implicated by Attorney General Sessions’ attempt to deny funding to sanctuary jurisdictions. Amar points to lower court decisions that reflect a misunderstanding of the doctrines and calls upon federal courts and their law clerks to better understand and apply not just the nuanced technical details of various specific doctrines, but the overall federalism big picture as well.

The Troublingly Widening Gyre of Complicity Claims

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf describes a principle most famously articulated by Thomas Jefferson, under which there should be a right to avoid providing financial support for causes one strongly opposes. Dorf argues that the Jeffersonian principle has lately run amok. He points out that the government’s argument against allowing a seventeen-year-old undocumented immigrant in federal custody to obtain a privately funded abortion is but one example of the government’s too-broad definition of “facilitation” of acts with which it disagrees. Dorf argues that adoption of such a position would convert every objectionable private exercise of rights into government participation.

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 Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... 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 of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavi... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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