Analysis and Commentary on Constitutional Law
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.

What the January 6 Committee Can Do to Persuade Independent Voters

Amherst professor Austin Sarat explains why it is so important that the hearings by the House Select Committee on the events of January 6, 2021, be and appear to be fair. Professor Sarat argues that an atmosphere of fairness and seriousness, similar to that of the Watergate hearings in 1973, is necessary not only to persuade independents about what happened behind the scenes on January 6, but also to turn the committee’s findings into a voting issue.

A Year After the Capitol Insurrection, the Threat is Coming from Inside the Building

In light of the approaching one-year anniversary of the January 6 Capitol Insurrection, Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the next assault on American democracy could come from within the Capitol and other institutions of American democracy. Professor Dorf points out that the phrase “political violence” is an oxymoron in the context of a democracy; to practice democratic politics is to accept a common set of ground rules for resolving policy disputes peacefully, and when the loser of an election uses violence to try to change the result, democratic politics ceases functioning.

Why We Still Like Separation of Church and State

Penn professor Marci A. Hamilton and UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explain why the separation between church and state is such an important principle in American democracy and describe ways in which this separation is being eroded. Professors Hamilton and Griffin urge courts and lawmakers to keep the states and the nation from being run by the world’s religions.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization: The Supreme Court Is No Safe Haven for Abortion Rights

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the abortion cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court—one challenge a restrictive Texas abortion law and another challenge to a plainly unconstitutional Mississippi law. Professor Grossman argues that safe-haven laws—which Justice Amy Coney Barrett in particular asked about during her line of questioning in oral argument—play no role in the law or policy of abortion.

Justice Kavanaugh’s Misdirection Plays in the Mississippi Abortion Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the Court will consider whether to overturn the right to abortion recognized in Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases. Specifically, Professor Dorf analyzes statements and questions by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, particularly in light of statements he made during his confirmation hearing.

A Tale of Two Juries

Texas law professor Jeffrey Abramson comments on two jury verdicts last week—the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the conviction of three men who attacked and killed Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia—that demonstrate our country’s division over race, guns, vigilantism, and self-defense. Professor Abramson notes that when evidence is borderline, as it was in the Rittenhouse trial, jurors are “liberated” to decide on the basis of their own sentiments and values. Professor Abramson argues that the rushed jury selection process in the Rittenhouse trial effectively placed the Second Amendment, rather than the individual defendant himself, on trial.

Democrats Should Accept Mitch McConnell’s Debt Ceiling Offer as a Holiday Gift

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why Democrats should accept without further delay Senator Mitch McConnell’s offer of a streamlined process to pass a debt ceiling increase via the reconciliation process. Professor Dorf points out that due to opposition to filibuster reform by Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, this is the only way to avoid an economic catastrophe as a result of the debt ceiling crisis.

The Fifth Circuit Completely Botches the Federal Constitutional Issues Raised by OSHA’s Vaccine and Testing Requirements for Large Employers

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone explain why a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit egregiously misunderstands the Commerce Clause issues presented in several lawsuits challenging the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s authority to mandate vaccine and testing requirements for large employers. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone focus on three ways in which the Fifth Circuit gets it wrong and expresses hope that the Sixth Circuit, which is where the lawsuits have been consolidated, does better.

A Question by Justice Thomas During the Second Amendment Argument Inadvertently Exposes a Weakness of his Originalist Philosophy

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explores the meaning of a question Justice Clarence Thomas asked during the oral argument in New. York State Rifle. & Pistol Association v. Bruen about the interpretation of the Second Amendment: “should we look at the founding, or should we look at the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, which then, of course, applies it to the states?” Professor Dorf argues that the question exposes a weakness of Justice Thomas’s originalist philosophy and affirms what we already know about arguments rooted in original meaning: they typically serve a rhetorical function, and Justices invoke them to justify decisions taken on other, ideological, grounds.

Using Legalistic Lawlessness to Protect the Wealthy from the Indignity of Paying Taxes: Part Two of Two

In this second in a series of columns, UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan shows how much of a stretch it would be to say—as conservatives are saying—that all taxes on wealth are unconstitutional and that all progressive taxes are taxes on wealth. Professor Buchanan argues that even if the now-defunct Billionaires Tax proposed by Democrats were a tax on wealth, rather than income, that classification would still not categorically violate the Constitution.

Legalistic Lawlessness and the Strategic Use of Repudiated Supreme Court Precedents, Part One of Two

In this first of a series of columns, UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why, even though Democrats’ so-called Billionaires Tax is not moving forward, there is much to learn from the flurry of commentary published just before it failed. Professor Buchanan explains how easy it would be for a motivated Supreme Court to mangle logic and precedent to make it more difficult for Congress to enact taxes that would collect revenues from the richest Americans, even if the United States soon becomes a one-party autocracy under permanent Republican, non-majoritarian rule.

The Proposed Tax on Billionaires’ Income Is Most Assuredly Constitutional, Unless the Supreme Court Simply Makes Stuff Up

UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why Democrats’ proposed tax on billionaires does not violate any part of the Constitution, despite claims to the contrary. Professor Buchanan argues that the U.S. Supreme Court, in normal times, should recognize that there is no constitutional barrier to the proposed tax, but this ultra-conservative majority Court could defy text and logic and create a new law from whole cloth, as it has done before on other issues.

The Supreme Court’s Authority is at Stake in the Texas Abortion Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that even the procedural issues presented in the federal government’s challenge to Texas’s restrictive abortion law are high stakes. Professor Dorf argues that the procedural question fundamentally asks whether the U.S. Supreme Court will permit state-sanctioned lawlessness.

From Boston to Brunswick, Georgia: The Perils of Jury Selection

Texas law professor Jeffrey Abramson explains why the trial judge in the case against the three men who chased and shot to death Ahmaud Arbery should not commit the same mistake that occurred in the Boston Marathon trial—speeding up jury selection to convict obviously guilty defendants, only to have the sentence thrown out on appeal. Professor Abramson argues that while judges may understandably feel frustrated during jury selection in high-profile cases, taking shortcuts during jury selection risks forcing victims, witnesses, and the community to live through traumatic events twice.

Believing Anita Hill

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a new book by Anita Hill, who famously testified about her sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas before his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Professor Griffin praises Hill’s book for chronicling the history of gender violence and for demanding meaningful reform to address gender violence at all levels of society.

Will the Death Penalty Survive the Pandemic?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat observes that a sharp reduction in executions during the COVID-19 pandemic represents a clear departure from the typical response to crisis in the United States. Professor Sarat explores whether this departure signifies the demise of capital punishment, or instead whether, as suggested by Oklahoma’s plan to execute seven people over the next six months, we will see a return to the historic norm.

The End of Abortion Rights: Texas Law Provides Grim Glimpse of Future

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Texas’s “SB 8” law, which bans most abortions, including those protected by the federal Constitution. Professor Grossman dispels some of the myths about the law and describes some of the ways it is both different and more extreme than other anti-abortion laws.

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