Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the rationale behind Federal Rule of Evidence 609, which allows for impeachment of criminal defendants’ testimony with prior convictions, and the seminal cases applying that rule. Colb explains why the jury’s reaction to evidence of prior convictions is both predictable and irrational.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone engage in a dialogue over when it is constitutionally permissible (and problematic) for the state to require that individuals identify their race on a government form. Their dialogue arises from a lawsuit in Virginia challenging that state’s law (which has since been amended) that required individuals to disclose their race on a marriage license application form.
NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and 3L Sara Spaur argue that the premise of a recent National Labor Relations Board proposed rulemaking—that an employer must exercise direct and immediate control over employees to be a joint employer under the National Labor Relations Act—is not supported by the common law, as is required. Estreicher and Spaur explain that the Restatements of Agency and four key cases support the opposite conclusion, that the test for employer status is not actual control, but simply the right to control employees.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, comments on President Trump's recent visit speech at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom that promotes his administration's brand of religious liberty. Hamilton argues that Trump is leading the nation toward toxic religious liberty that our nations framers—and particularly James Madison—warned against and attempted to prevent.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to a colleague’s claim (yet unconfirmed) that jurors have an easier time distinguishing truth from falsehood when they read a transcript of testimony than when they listen to and watch the testimony directly. Assuming the claim is true, Colb describes why that claim might at first be surprising and also why, on further consideration, it makes sense. She proposes that if the claim is true, we ought perhaps to consider whether the distractors inherent in live testimony should excludable under the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a memorandum recently issued by Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that announced directives to substantially reduce government funding for and mandating of animal testing of chemicals to which humans might be exposed. Dorf acknowledges that Wheeler’s motivation might be the deregulation of industries that produce chemical products (a legitimate concern expressed by some public health and environmental groups), but Dorf argues that the policy is win-win-win: better for the animals spared experimentation; less costly to the public fisc; and better for human health.
Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a recent decision by a panel of state-court judges in North Carolina striking down partisan gerrymandering schemes as violating that state’s constitution. Amar had argued after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rucho v. Common Cause that state courts would have to address partisan gerrymandering on “independent and adequate state-law grounds” (rather than on federal constitutional grounds), which is exactly what the North Carolina court did.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a law recently passed (and challenged) in Tennessee that purports to prohibit ministers ordained online from presiding over marriages in that state. Grossman explains why the Tennessee legislature passed the law and why it is being challenged, and she points out that based on the judge’s questions during the proceedings, the state may ultimately have to show at trial how the law is rationally related to its legitimate regulation of entry into marriage—regardless of whether it burdens the free exercise of religion.
Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers three key observations about a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit concerning “faithless” electors in the Electoral College. Specifically, Amar explains why the potential impact of the decision on the National Popular Vote movement is most likely limited, not extensive.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued toward the end of the last term, in which a majority of the Court ruled that as long as police have probable cause for an arrest, it does not matter if their actual motivation for arresting someone violates the person’s First Amendment rights. Colb considers whether such pretextual, speech-based arrests are a problem, how they differ from other pretextual arrests, and how the ruling in this case resembles the law of a seemingly different area—post-conviction incarceration for convicted criminals.
Marci A. Hamilton, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, calls for an end to legislative exemptions to mandatory childhood vaccinations, except those that are absolutely necessary. Hamilton explains why these exemptions undermine the public good and endanger children.
NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in which that court enjoined the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from publishing its guidance on the applicability of Title VII’s disparate impact analysis to employers’ use of criminal records in hiring decisions. Estreicher explains why the federal appeals court was incorrect in holding that the EEOC violated the notice-and-comment procedures for rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act.
Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the Trump administration’s recent legal challenge to California’s law that denies ballot access to presidential candidates who have chosen not to release their tax returns. Without opining as to whether that challenge is likely to succeed or whether it is a good idea for states to enact such laws, Amar explains why, as a normative matter, the arguments in favor of striking down the law are misplaced, or at the very least, overly simplistic.
In this second of a series of columns, Illinois law professors Lesley Wexler, Jennifer Robbennolt, and Jennie Pahre continue their discussion of the legal mechanism of cy pres—by which a court decides a remedy based on how closely it serves the intended purpose (originally from the law of trusts). The authors draw upon the plot and characters of the television show Fleabag to illustrate how restorative justice might help re-center the #MeToo debate away from its seemingly sole punitive focus and more towards the twin purposes of victim restoration and deterrence.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers when the void-for-vagueness doctrine, which has a due process component, does and does not make sense. Colb argues that differences in the length of a criminal sentence have little or no deterrence effect, so imposing long sentences as an attempt to deter crimes is a waste of resources.
Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—discusses how the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion in American Legion v. American Humanist Association rejects without giving proper respect to the “endorsement test” that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor first championed as a way of maintaining separation between church and state. Hamilton argues that the endorsement test was the right test at the right time in history and that the majority in American Legion attempted to erase Justice O’Connor’s contribution to the Court’s Establishment Clause doctrine.
Brazilian legal scholar Igor de Lazari, Brazilian law professor Antonio G. Sepulveda, and attorney David S. Kemp compare the evolving recognition of the rights of LGBTQ individuals in Brazil and the United States. De Lazari, Sepulveda, and Kemp describe specifically the role of courts in recognizing these rights and establishing protections in the absence of clear legislation.
Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, in which the Court held that disputes over partisan gerrymandering are political questions that are beyond the competence of federal courts to resolve. Amar argues that while state courts may attempt to process partisan gerrymandering claims under state statutes and state constitutional provisions, they would need to do so not under the federal Constitution but under independent and adequate state-law grounds.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb and George R. El-Khoury, JD, comment on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last month applying the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement to permit the admission in evidence of a blood-alcohol test administered on an unconscious driver. Colb and El-Khoury describe some of the problems with using the exigent circumstances exception to arrive at the result in this case and propose some alternative approaches that might yield the same outcome but for stronger reasons.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman describes recently passed anti-discrimination laws in New York that improve protections for victims of sexual harassment and assult. Grossman describes the role of the #MeToo movement in increasing awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault and praises New York for being a leader in protecting the rights of women.