Analysis and Commentary on Courts and Procedure
Kyle Rittenhouse, SB8 and the Dangerous Legalization of Vigilante Justice

Amherst professor Austin Sarat explains why the not guilty verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse sends a powerful message condoning vigilantism, particularly when coupled with the Texas law that authorizes private enforcement of its extreme prohibitions on abortion. Professor Sarat argues that vigilantism, including these instances, has historically taken root in times of social, cultural, and political transition, and in places with high levels of cultural diversity and institutional instability

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.

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.

Alito, Texas Abortion and the Shadow Docket: Déjà vu All Over Again?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s increasing tendency to decide high-profile and far-reaching cases via its “shadow docket”—without oral argument or full briefing. Professor Sarat and Mr. Aftergut point out that recent remarks by Justice Samuel Alito reinforce the view that the Court has a partisan agenda that is increasingly out of step with the beliefs and values of the American people.

Would Overruling Roe v. Wade Retroactively Reanimate “Zombie” Abortion Laws?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses an often overlooked procedural aspect related to Texas’s extreme anti-abortion law that could result in “zombie” laws taking effect in every other red state. Professor Dorf argues that there are several reasons to hope that a state scheme to retroactively enforce zombie abortion laws would fail, even if the Supreme Court curtails or eliminates the abortion right itself, not the least of which is that retroactive application of zombie laws is fundamentally unfair.

Mexican Government Lawsuit Against U.S. Gun Makers Tests the Limits of Territoriality

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses a lawsuit in which the government of Mexico is suing U.S. firearms manufacturers in federal court for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent their weapons from ending up in Mexico, profit from the trafficking of U.S.-made guns to Mexico, and in some respects deliberately target the illegal Mexican market. Professor Dorf argues that while the lawsuit presents strong moral and policy grounds for granting the Mexican government the relief it seeks, a 2005 federal statute, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), will likely prevent it from succeeding.

Improve the Supreme Court by Making it Less and More Like Elementary School

In light of the Presidential Commission holding hearings on Court expansion, Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf offers two reforms that build on the observations of others and his own experience. Professor Dorf suggests that the Court spread cases out over the entire year, rather than only between October and June/July, and that the Justices rotate the order of questioning from one argument to the next.

We Need a People’s (Not Presidential) Commission on the Supreme Court

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that a People’s Commission—rather than a Presidential Commission—on the U.S. Supreme Court is the only way to ensure that a democratic dialogue that truly represents the interests of the American people. In support of this argument, Professor Sarat draws upon a recent Gallup poll about public confidence in the Court and the highly critical testimony of Yale Law’s Samuel Moyn and Harvard Law’s Nikolas Bowie.

Can/Should A Federal Court Order the Creation of a Bipartisan Districting Commission in Illinois? Evaluating the Claims for Remedy in McConchie, the Republican Challenge to Illinois’s Recently Adopted Redistricting Plan

In this second of a series of columns commenting on Republican efforts to challenge the apportionment of Illinois state legislative districts that the General Assembly and the Governor recently enacted, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone argue that a federal court may not be able to grant the relief the plaintiffs are seeking. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone point out that the Illinois Supreme Court is the proper arbiter of the key legal question whether a commission is required under state law.

Evaluating the Republican Federal Court Challenge to Illinois’s Recently Adopted Redistricting Plan

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone describe a lawsuit in which Republicans are challenging Illinois’s recently adopted redistricting plan. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone identify several obstacles the lawsuit may face, which, in their estimation, make it unlikely to succeed.

Justice Kagan’s Unusual and Dubious Approach to “Reliance” Interests Relating to Stare Decisis

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar critiques Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s recent use of stare decisis doctrine and reliance interest in her dissenting opinion last term in Ramos v. Louisiana, and again this term in Edwards v. Vannoy. Dean Amar describes the reliance interest theory and explains why Justice Kagan’s reasoning is unusual and dubious.

Are Rideshare Drivers Like Uber’s and Lyft’s Subject to the Federal Arbitration Act?

NYU Law professor Samuel Estreicher and appellate lawyers Rex Heinke and Jessica Weisel describe the uncertainty surrounding whether Uber and Lyft drivers are subject to the Federal Arbitration Act. The authors note the split of authority across the nation and note that, depending on the outcome of litigation in the Second, Third, and Eleventh Circuits, the question may soon come before the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve.

Lethal Injection’s Dreadful Failures: How States Are Trying to Normalize Accidents

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—describes ways in which states are attempting to normalize errors that occur during the process of lethal injection. Professor Sarat argues that lethal injection is demonstrably far from the painless form of death it once promised to be, and that it should be abolished in the United States.

Why the Supreme Court was Right Last Week to Deny Review of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Decisions Handed Down Prior to the 2020 Election

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone argue that the U.S. Supreme Court correctly denied review last week of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions handed down before the 2020 election. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone explain why the majority denied review and point out that the dissenting opinions unwittingly demonstrate the rightness of the majority.

Why the Biden Administration Was Right Earlier This Week to Change Course in the Obamacare Challenge Pending Before the Court

Illinois Law Dean Vikram David Amar comments on an unusual move by the U.S. Solicitor General’s office, sending a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court amending the position of the federal government in a case currently pending before the Court challenging the Affordable Care Act. Dean Amar explains why the arrival of a new administration should generally not trigger such position reversals, but he argues that the unusual circumstances—specifically the “exceptional implausibility” of the government’s prior filings—may justify the government’s action in this instance.

The Excessive Complexity of Federal Court Gatekeeping Law

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why Trump v. Sierra Club, a challenge to President Trump’s border wall currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, exemplifies the needless complexity of federal court gatekeeping law. Professor Dorf lists the various legal doctrines that restrict access to the federal courts and argues that their number and complexity tend to undercut, rather than serve, justice.

Tenth Circuit Holds That Contract Formation Issues Are for the Court, Not the Arbitrator, Notwithstanding an Express Delegation Clause

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher discusses a recent decision by the Tenth Circuit in Fedor v. United Healthcare, in which the court clarified that a court must first find agreement to arbitrate before the severability doctrine comes into play. Professor Estreicher explains the severability doctrine, describes the facts giving rise to the case, and the Tenth Circuit’s reasoning behind its conclusion.

Trump’s Manipulation of the Courts

Steven D. Schwinn, a professor of law at the University of Illinois Chicago John Marshall Law School, explains how the Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing the Trump administration to proceed with efforts to exclude undocumented aliens from the census is consistent with the administration’s manipulation of the courts to achieve illegal policy. Professor Schwinn describes why that the Court’s ruling in the census case is an appropriate bookend to the travel ban ruling he received early in his presidency.

Odysseus, Avocados, and Election Litigation Timing

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the legal concepts of ripeness and laches, which pertain to the timing of filing a lawsuit, and argues that in the context of election lawsuits, it is far better for courts to relax ripeness rules and risk unnecessary adjudications than to discard the doctrine of laches and risk widespread disenfranchisement and the undermining of confidence in fair elections.

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 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