Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
No, America Does Not Have a Free Speech Problem—At Least, Not the One The New York Times’s Editors Imagine

UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan responds to a recent editorial in The New York Times lamenting the alleged erosion of the American right to speak one’s mind and voice one’s opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned. Professor Buchanan explains why the editorial board erroneously conflates the right to free speech with an expectation of speech without consequences.

Abortion and Physician Assistance in Dying

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explores the relationship between the abortion right and the right to physician assistance in dying, neither of which she predicts will enjoy constitutional protection under the religious extremist majority that now rules the Supreme Court. Professor Colb points out that religious extremists oppose both rights based on a view that God alone decides when we live and die.

Where Things Might Go in the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s Seventeenth Amendment Case Involving Senator Jim Inhofe’s “Irrevocable” Promise to Retire in January: Part Two in a Series

In this second of a two-part series of columns on a Seventeenth Amendment case currently before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone consider whether Senator Jim Inhofe’s promise to resign is enforceable and whether there anything else Inhofe (and the state) could do to vindicate his (and its) wishes.

European Courts Deliver a Wake-Up Call about American Prison Conditions

Amherst professor Austin Sarat describes how courts in Europe, when faced with the question whether to extradite an escaped convict to the United States, have expressed greater concern about the conditions of American prisons than do American courts or legislatures. Professor Sarat argues that it is time for American courts to redress prison conditions and ensure that when we send someone to prison, we respect and protect their constitutional rights.

A Case Pending in the Oklahoma Supreme Court Involving Senator Jim Inhofe Raises Interesting Questions Under the Seventeenth Amendment: Part One in a Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone identify and analyze some of the Seventeenth Amendment issues presented in a case pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone consider whether a state can hold a special election while the Senate seat is still occupied, and whether the possibility of a substantial lag between a special election and actual replacement matters.

The Scope and Nature of the State Secrets Privilege

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on two cases the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided that involve the “state secrets privilege.” Professor Dorf argues that the cases demonstrate that the executive branch (regardless of whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat) will go as far as the courts allow with the public secrets privilege, so it falls to Congress to rein it in.

Concluding Thoughts on the Invocation of the Independent-State-Legislature (ISL) Theory in the North Carolina Emergency Relief Application at the Supreme Court: Part Six in a Series

In this sixth of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar offers a few concluding thoughts on the invocation of the Independent State Legislature (ISL) theory in cases in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Dean Amar looks both backward at last week’s decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and forward to other settings in which ISL theory will be an issue.

I Am for States’ Rights but Only in California, Massachusetts, New York….

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that the Texas Supreme Court has consistently advanced a “mean-spirited” version of federalism that is the antithesis of what the Founders wanted. Professor Sarat points out that the mean-spiritedness was on display when the Texas legislature enacted S.B. 8, which does not allow legal abortions in cases of rape or incest, and when the state supreme court upheld the enforcement of that law.

Masterpiece Cakeshop Redux and the Homophobia Exemption from Anti-Discrimination Law

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review that presents the question whether the application of a state anti-discrimination law to a web designer who wishes to exclude same-sex couples from her services violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Professor Colb predicts that the Court is likely to hold that the law as applied to the web designer does violate her free speech right—continuing a pattern of almost exclusively granting homophobes special First Amendment exemptions from anti-discrimination law.

Should the U.S. Supreme Court Take Up the Independent-State-Legislature (ISL) Theory? Part Five in a Series

In this fifth of a series of columns on the so-called Independent State Legislature (ISL) theory of Articles I and II of the federal Constitution, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should grant review in a case that cleanly presents ISL theory and soundly reject it, once and for all. Dean Amar calls upon the majority of the Court that rejects ISL theory to explain its sound reasoning for rejecting it, noting that when one side lays out its case in public writings and the other (much stronger) side does not, the public is not well served.

Further Evaluation of the Arguments Raised in the Recent North Carolina Independent-State-Legislature (ISL) Application Filed in the U.S. Supreme Court: Part Four in a Series

In this fourth of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar continues his discussion of the so-called Independent State Legislature (ISL) theory regarding federal congressional and presidential selection processes. Dean Amar responds to arguments the North Carolina Applicants raise in their Reply filed with the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

How ISL Proponents Deal With Arguments and Cases Cutting Against Them: Part Three in a Series

In this third of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar explains why the proponents of the so-called Independent State Legislature (ISL) theory of Articles I and II of the U.S. Constitution inadequately address arguments and cases cutting against them. Dean Amar points out that a fundamental flaw of ISL theory is its failure to articulate any federal interest or norm, grounded in originalist understandings, structural expectations, or binding Supreme Court cases, concerning any specific state distribution of internal governmental powers.

Bill Barr’s New Book: More Reputation Make-over Than Truth

Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut opines that former Attorney General William Barr’s forthcoming memoir glosses over Barr’s substantial role in Donald Trump’s effort to undermine democracy. Mr. Aftergut argues that Barr damaged the Justice Department’s reputation for integrity, and no memoir can make up for that.

How ISL Theory Has Already (and Recently) Been Repudiated by the U.S. Supreme Court: Part Two in a Series

In this second of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has already rejected the so-called Independent State Legislature (ISL) theory of Articles I and II of the U.S. Constitution. Dean Amar dissects the cases in which the theory arose and explains why the language of those cases, particularly taken together, repudiates the ISL theory.

The North Carolina Partisan Gerrymander Case and the Ahistorical “Independent State Legislature” (ISL) Theory: Part One in a Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why we should be alarmed at a request by North Carolina Republicans for relief at the U.S. Supreme Court in a partisan gerrymander case. Dean Amar argues that the theory invoked in that case, known as the “Independent State Legislature” doctrine, is not just lawless but law-defying.

Supreme Court to Decide Between Establishment and Free Exercise in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a recent case the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear that presents an apparent conflict between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. Professor Griffin describes the background of the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District and explains the significance of the legal issues at stake.

The Supreme Court’s Stealth Attack on Expertise Helps Pave the Way for Authoritarianism

Amherst professor Austin Sarat and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut point out that in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Department of Labor, the conservative majority continues the right-wing assault on knowledge and expertise. Professor Sarat and Mr. Aftergut argue that the conservative attack on regulatory agencies and the expertise they represent is a classic indicator of creeping totalitarianism—the blurring of the distinction between fact and fiction.

Prisoners Should Not Be Used as Human Guinea Pigs in COVID-19 Cultural Wars

Amherst professor Austin Sarat responds to recent news that officials in Arkansas’s Washington County Detention Center have been administering ivermectin to prison inmates without their knowledge or consent. Professor Sarat argues that this coercive and unethical practice effectively treats them as human guinea pigs, violating their dignity and autonomy in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In the Sentencing of Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers, the Justice System Operated at its Best

Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut argues that the sentencing of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers last week demonstrated institutions and individuals within the judicial system operating at their best. Mr. Aftergut praises Judge Timothy Walmsley in particular for listening attentively to the victim impact statements and for deliberating on them before handing down the sentences.

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