Analysis and Commentary on Privacy
With Dobbs, We’re All in Bork’s America Now

Amherst professor Austin Sarat and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut argue that Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, together with the language in Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion, put the country on a path toward the totalitarian state that one-time Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork had envisioned. Professor Sarat and Mr. Aftergut point out that Bork’s America would have a constitution that does not evolve or change to meet new circumstances and that affords no protection of citizens’ privacy from government intrusion

Justice Alito’s Opinion on Abortion: Not Just the End of Reproductive Rights, But the Downfall of Fundamental Civil Liberties Guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to All Americans

In this second of a series of columns on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., attorney Jon May argues that the decision threatens certain fundamental rights conferred by the Fourth Amendment. Mr. May predicts that those rights will not withstand the onslaught of law enforcement conduct in entering and searching our homes without a warrant, invading our private thoughts and associations found on our smart phones and computers, or stopping and searching us on the streets without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

Some Questions for the Alito Five

In light of Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., which would overrule Roe v. Wade and its progeny, UChicago Law professor emeritus Albert W. Alschuler and Harvard Law professor emeritus Laurence H. Tribe ask six questions of the apparent five-Justice majority. Professors Alschuler and Tribe point out some of the inconsistencies and illogic of the opinion and call on the Justices to account for these issues.

Are Religious Abortions Protected?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explores a suggestion by some pro-choice advocates that a “religious abortion” might serve as a workaround to the apparently imminent demise of the constitutional right to abortion. Professor Colb explains why that workaround is unlikely to prevail: the current Court discounts the Establishment Clause, and its ostensible embrace of the Free Exercise Clause is actually friendliness only to conservative Christianity (and to Judaism and Islam where the traditions happen to be the same).

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.

New Texas Abortion Statute Raises Cutting-Edge Questions Not Just About Abortion but About the Relationship Between State and Federal Courts

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone analyze some of the issues presented by a new Texas anti-abortion statute that is to be enforced entirely by private plaintiffs. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone explore the unusual characteristics of the law and describe some approaches opponents might take—and indeed Whole Woman’s Health (WWH) has already filed a lawsuit in federal court that seems to follow an approach the authors describe.

How Mike Huckabee and Robert Bork Could Help Center Neil Gorsuch

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb analyzes an unusual comment by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee that a government restriction on the size of people’s Thanksgiving gathering would violate the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. Colb describes a similar statement (in a different context) by conservative Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork during his (unsuccessful) confirmation hearings in 1987 and observes from that pattern a possibility that even as unenumerated rights are eroded, the Court might be creative in identifying a source of privacy rights elsewhere in the Constitution.

Questioning Justice Kennedy’s Replacement: Pay Attention Not Just to Roe v. Wade but Also the Right to Privacy and Contraception

Marci A. Hamilton, professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania, explains why the impact of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the US Supreme Court touches far more than just the issue of abortion—but the very notion of a constitutional right to privacy. Hamilton argues that if the Federalist Society has its way, the core reasoning of Roe v. Wade will be eviscerated and the constitutional right to privacy—from which the right to access to contraception and the right to engage in consensual sexual relations in private—will be eroded.

Carpenter and the Beginning of the End of Privacy

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Carpenter v. United States, in which the Court held that the government must have a search warrant to obtain an individual’s cell-site location information (CSLI). Colb describes the Court’s holding and the dissenting opinions, and considers the Court’s minority (but growing) view that only property, and not privacy, is protected under the US Constitution—particularly when privacy rights encompass the right of a woman to obtain an abortion and the right of same-sex couples to engage in private, consensual sexual acts.

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.

Supreme Court of India Protects a Right to Privacy

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the Supreme Court of India in which that court ruled that the Constitution of India protects a right of privacy. Dorf explains the significance of the decision not only for the largest democracy in the world, but also for people in other constitutional democracies, including the United States.

Out in the Open: The Alt-Right Learns About Privacy in the Modern World

Joanna L. Grossman, SMU Dedman School of Law professor, and Lawrence M. Friedman, a Stanford Law professor, comment on the decreased privacy of the modern world, as recently illustrated by the very public identification of some of the alt-right demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, from photos and videos of the rally. Grossman and Friedman point out that technology is making anonymity a thing of the past and that only affirmative legislative changes, such as recognition of a “right to be forgotten,” can alter that course.

Indiana Court Rules in Favor of Cell Phone History Privacy

Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb comments on a recent decision by the Court of Appeals of Indiana, holding that police violated their suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights by acquiring, without a warrant, the suspect’s cell site information from his cell phone provider. Colb explains the Indiana court’s reasoning and discusses the evolving law regarding people’s privacy expectations in information their cell phones store and transmit.

Anger Management: Charlie Sheen’s Ex-Fiancée Sues Over Sheen’s Failure to Disclose HIV Status

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent lawsuit by Charlie Sheen’s ex-fiancée seeking damages for Sheen’s failure to disclose his HIV status. Grossman discusses the nature of the complaint filed and describes how civil and criminal laws must balance the right of individuals to sexual privacy against interests such as public health.

Education Department Faults Illinois School District for Excluding Transgender Girl from Locker Room Changing Area

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a finding by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights that an Illinois school district had violated anti-discrimination laws by barring a transgender girl from showering and changing in the girls’ locker room without restrictions. Colb argues that perhaps the best solution for everyone may be to have individual showers for everyone, rather than singling out a single person or disregarding the privacy concerns of everyone.

The Sixth Circuit Says No to “Butt Dial” Privacy

Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb analyzes a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit holding that when a person with a cellphone inadvertently calls a third party, thereby exposing personal communications, the caller retains no reasonable expectation of privacy in the matters disclosed for purposes of the federal Wiretap Act.

Personalized Pricing in the Air? Why Consumers Should Be Wary of a New Airline Pricing Proposal

University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a proposal tentatively approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation that would allow airlines to collect consumers’ personal data for the purpose of personalizing fare quotes. Ramasastry cautions that the proposal has significant privacy and discrimination risks and that we need more information, more transparency, and better safeguards before proceeding with it.

The Power and Peril of the Internet: How Should “Revenge Porn” Be Handled?

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman and Stanford University law professor Lawrence Friedman discuss the ways in which legislation can (and cannot) address the phenomenon of “revenge porn.” Grossman and Friedman point out that while the similar offense of blackmail has existed for many years, only recently, with the aid of the Internet, has this new form of harassment become a serious issue for lawmakers to consider.

Click Away: A Texas Law on “Improper Photography” Bites the Dust

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman and Stanford University law professor Lawrence Friedman comment on a recent decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals striking down that state’s law against “improper photography.” Grossman and Friedman describe other similar laws in other states and discuss the challenges legislatures have faced in crafting such laws to include highly inappropriate violations of privacy without running afoul of the First Amendment.

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