Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
Whom Should Chris Christie Name to Frank Lautenberg’s Senate Seat? Current Law Provides No Perfect Options

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf explains the complex situation regarding the New Jersey Senate seat that was held by Frank Lautenberg, who just recently passed away. Lautenberg was a devoted Democrat, but now a Republican will name his immediate successor, who will then have the advantage of incumbency in the next election. Dorf explains how and why this somewhat odd-seeming sequence of events occurred, and explains the role that the U.S. Constitution’s Seventeenth Amendment, in conjunction with New Jersey law, played here. Dorf also contends that there are far better ways than this to fill Senate vacancies, and describes one such system.

Dealing With National Security Leaks: Obama’s “Plumbers”: Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on how certain presidents—specifically, Nixon, Bush, and Obama—have respectively chosen to deal with national security leaks. Most strikingly, Dean notes that President Obama still fully embraces an only slightly modified Bush/Cheney viewpoint on dealing with leaks of national security information. And that Obama position, Dean points out, is quite notable, since such thinking can be traced directly to Richard Nixon’s infamous “Plumbers.” In the column, Dean also tells the story of the original “Plumbers,” to illuminate the parallel. Dean will continue his series on this topic with Part Two on June 14, here on Justia’s Verdict.

The Supreme Court Takes the Case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, Which Raises the Questions Whether—And If So, How—a Town Board May Open Its Meetings With Prayer

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses a church/state case that the Supreme Court has recently taken up, which concerns the question whether a town board may constitutionally open its meetings with prayer. Hamilton predicts that this case will be a landmark Establishment Clause battle, and a key development in America’s ongoing culture war over control of government programs and spaces, and of American culture itself. In addition to analyzing prior Establishment Clause precedents that are relevant here, Hamilton suggests where each of the Justices is likely to fall on the possible spectrum of views, and votes, regarding the Town of Greece case.

Supreme Court’s Ruling in Arlington v. FCC Highlights Debate Over the Meaning and Future of Chevron Deference Doctrine in Administrative Law

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on a very recent Supreme Court administrative law opinion, Arlington v. FCC. First, Amar explains the key doctrine of Chevron deference, which was established in an earlier Court precedent, and was central here. He also comments on the Court’s rejection of an interpretation of the doctrine that would have significantly narrowed it. Finally, Amar also discusses the contrasting views of the concurring and dissenting opinions in the case.

A Unanimous Supreme Court Ruling Underscores the Limits of Habeas Corpus as a Remedy for State Prisoners

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on Monday’s unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Metrish v. Lancaster, as well as on the more general significance of unanimous rulings. Lancaster, as Dorf explains, involved the writ of habeas corpus, which the Justices declined to invoke, despite evidence indicating that the convict at issue did not receive due process at the state court level. Dorf also notes that this is only one instance in a larger pattern of the weakening and narrowing of habeas corpus at the High Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Blood Tests for Drunk Driving Suspects Require a Search Warrant: A Wise Decision?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb considers the merits of the Supreme Court’s approach to cases where drunk driving is suspected, as set forth in Missouri v. McNeely. There, the Court held that police must conduct a “totality of the circumstances” exigency analysis to determine whether seeking a warrant prior to performing a blood test would significantly undermine the efficacy of the search in an individual case. Colb considers whether the Court’s ruling makes sense, in light of what generally happens in DWI cases, and discusses an alternative approach that was proposed by the Chief Justice, as well as the approach described in Justice Thomas’s dissent and its witty hypothetical.

Why Tennessee Might—and Should—Reject Its Proposed “Ag Gag” Bill

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a Tennessee controversy over a proposed ag-gag law that would require anyone who intentionally records images of animal abuse to submit their unedited footage or photos to law enforcement within 48 hours. Hilden argues that, as Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper—who called the proposed law “constitutionally suspect”—has argued, it has numerous serious flaws.

The Breadth of the Ministerial Exception and Ecclesiastical Deference: A State Supreme Court Case Highlights Questions Left Open by Last Year’s U.S. Supreme Court Hosanna-Tabor Ruling

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on a decision from the Kentucky Supreme Court concerning the ministerial exception to employment discrimination law, which leaves some inquiries to ecclesiastical, rather than secular resolutions. In this area of law, Amar notes that last year’s U.S. Supreme Court case on the ministerial exception, Hosanna-Tabor, left a number of questions still to be answered by the courts, both state and federal—including the U.S. Supreme Court, meaning, Amar says, that future High Court clarification is likely.

Legal Limits on the Forced Feeding of Hunger-Striking Guantanamo Bay Detainees

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the law applicable to the forced feeding, via tubes, of those Guantanamo detainees who refuse to eat, as they are on a hunger strike, and are becoming dangerously weak. Human rights groups condemn the forced feeding as cruel, but the government says that it is better than the detainee’s dying. With U.S. law unclear on the force-feeding issue as it related to detainees, Dorf analyzes the situation, citing two relevant Supreme Court precedents and other legal sources that might shed light on the issue. He also suggests that the detainees’ best hope, in this situation, might be to invoke international law, though their chances of prevailing will still be slim.

A New Mexico School District Censors Students’ Attempts to Use Plastic Fetus Dolls to Talk About Abortion

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a New Mexico free speech case, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled against students’ First Amendment claims, among other claims that their attorneys had brought. Hilden argues that the students’ First Amendment claims were valid, and should have been upheld by the court. She also raises an interesting wrinkle regarding the Tinker test for speech in public schools: What if the speaker is not the disruptor of the school environment, and other students are, but the seed of the other students’ disruption did come from the speaker?

If the Supreme Court Decides the Proposition 8 Sponsors Lack Standing, What Will Happen to Same-Sex Marriage in California? Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part Two of a two-part series of columns regarding legal issues relating to Proposition 8, Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram Amar comments on various scenarios relating to the Proposition that may or may not come to pass. The scenarios include a number of different ways in which Judge Walker’s injunction might be read.

Miranda’s Public Safety Exception: How It Does and Does Not Affect the Evidence Against the Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses Miranda warnings and the proposed reliance on the “public safety” exception in the case of the suspected Boston Marathon bomber. Kemp first describes the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Miranda v. Arizona, as well as the subsequently established public safety exception. Kemp cautions that despite the characterization by some authorities of the exception as a carte blanche to question criminal suspects in blatant disregard of their constitutional rights, the exception should be preserved as an evidentiary rule employed only by impartial courts, not by interrogating officers.

The U.S. Supreme Court Declares Warrantless Dog Sniffs of Private Front Porches Unconstitutional, Or Does it? A Closer Look at Florida v. Jardines

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on the recent Supreme Court Fourth Amendment case concerning the constitutionality of the police’s conducting a warrantless dog sniff on the front porch of a private house in order to detect drugs. Colb analyzes both the majority and concurring opinions from the High Court, and explains why the drugs that were found by the police were suppressed, so that they could not be admitted into evidence in a criminal case against the defendant, Jardines. She also predicts the result that will follow when a similar, but not identical, Fourth Amendment case arises in the future, as it surely will.

Was the Recording of Senator Mitch McConnell’s Campaign a Watergate-like Event, and Was It Illegal?

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the recent controversy over the recording of Senator Mitch McConnell's campaign. Though some have compared the incident to Watergate, and suggested that the recording was illegal, Dean contends that neither the Watergate comparison nor the suggestion of illegality is accurate, and explains exactly why.

The First Amendment and Ag-Gag Laws

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden writes in opposition to Ag-Gag laws, which penalize those who (1) covertly take videos of abuse at facilities where animals are held; and/or (2) apply for a job at such a facility without revealing that they are affiliated with an animal rights group. She also comments on Duke law professor Jed Purdy’s argument in a recent New York Times Op Ed that webcams should be placed in slaughterhouses and other animal facilities, because Purdy doesn’t go further to advocate the use of such cameras to make slaughterhouses a thing of the past.

Teens and Tiaras: Virtual Beauty Contests on Instagram, and Why the Company Should Do Something About Them

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses Instragram’s issue with users’ rating the appearance of young girls in beauty pageants online, and leaving comments both positive and negative. Ramasastry notes that such pageants may raise legal issues and privacy concerns and may trigger issues under COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

The Plague of Proposed Legislation by Religious Entities in the States: An Explosion in Foolhardy State Religious Liberty Proposals and a Sneaky Addition to the Pennsylvania Task Force’s Legislative Proposals

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on two recent developments: (1) a new kind of state-level religious freedom restoration act (RFRA) that omits the requirement of a substantial burden upon the plaintiff's religious conduct; a mere burden is enough under this new kind of RFRA; (2) the deeply disappointing nature of the Pennsylvania Task Force Legislative Package to protect children, which omitted child-sex-abuse statute of limitations reform, and failed to protect children from medical neglect by faith-healing parents.

The Supreme Court Will Review a Michigan Affirmative Action Case Next Term, but May Address the Key Issues in It This Term

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on a set of key affirmative action issues that the Supreme Court may address this term and/or the next. The programs at issue include affirmative action in state public higher education, employment, and contracting. As Dorf notes, the Michigan affirmative action case that the Court will address is more complicated than it may at first seem, in part because Court precedents establish limits on how a state or local government may go about eliminating or preventing laws that benefit racial minorities. Dorf also notes that an issue that is important here also crops up in the Prop 8 case currently before the Court: the issue of the import of giving and then taking away rights.

What’s the Matter with North Dakota and Arkansas? Two State Legislatures Pass Highly Restrictive and Unconstitutional Abortion Laws

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on two states’ decisions to pass abortion laws despite the fact that under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, it is very clear that these new laws are unconstitutional. Grossman explains the relevant tenets of constitutional law regarding abortion, and details exactly why both North Dakota’s and Arkansas’s laws flout the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedents. Grossman also covers other abortion laws that have been passed by state legislatures despite their very clear unconstitutionality, and notes that the new laws do not gibe with public opinion regarding abortion rights.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Rules in Favor of a Public Elementary School Student Who Sought to Pass Out Invitations to Her Church’s Party to Her Classmates

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent school speech decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The case involved a fifth grader who had sought to invite her classmates to her church's Christmas party. The court invoked the Tinker test, which asks whether student speech causes substantial disruption in the school's setting. The case also raised the intriguing question of how old students need to be to have their speech in the school setting protected by the Tinker precedent.

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

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

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Fels Institute of Government 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

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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