Analysis and Commentary on Courts and Procedure

How Bad Will Things Become? Part Seven: Goodbye, New Deal and Great Society?

GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan continues his series of columns considering how much damage the US Supreme Court will inflict after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Drawing upon the nation’s experience with a conservative Court during the Lochner era, Buchanan predicts that one of the most consequential results of Republicans’ theft of a Supreme Court seat could be to seriously undermine one or more of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

What Does #BelieveWomen Mean?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains what #BelieveWomen means—that society should stop being presumptively skeptical of women who report sexual misconduct—as well as what the movement does not mean. Colb points out that to believe women does not mean to criminally convict the accused and bypass constitutional safeguards; rather, it means to treat their testimony the same as society and the law treat all other testimony—as presumptively credible. Colb argues that if we make systemic changes to the way we treat women reporting sexual misconduct, starting with initial contact with the police, these changes could translate into more widespread reforms in the courtroom and prosecution of sexual offenders.

Justice O’Connor Withdraws From Public Life, and the Reagan Court is Finally Born

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the announcement that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would be withdrawing from public life and explains how, ironically, the exit of President Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nominees is giving rise to what could be called the Reagan Court. Dorf describes Reagan’s successes and failures with respect to shaping the Court and explains why only now, with its present composition, the Court may actually be poised to further Reagan’s agenda.

A Beginning, Not An Ending: #MeToo and the Kavanaugh Confirmation

Illinois law professors Lesley Wexler and Colleen Murphy propose that the most lasting legacy of the Kavanaugh confirmation battle will not be Judge Kavanaugh’s imprint on the Court, but the bravery Dr. Ford has inspired in others. Wexler and Murphy view the recent events through the lens of transitional justice and argue that the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh is not dispositive or even indicative of whether the aspirations for #MeToo movement may be realized.

What Kavanaugh Could Have Said, But Didn’t: “I Honestly Don’t Know What Happened, and I’m Willing to Accept the Senate’s Judgment”

GW Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan writes a letter that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh could have written (but didn’t) in response to allegations that he sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl when he was a 17-year-old high school student. Using a fictional letter as a rhetorical device, Buchanan points out that Kavanaugh could have acknowledged that he, like anyone who has ever drunk to excess, does not recall exactly what he did or did not do while drunk, particularly on the night in question, but instead, Kavanaugh flatly denied that the allegations could be true. Buchanan argues that Kavanaugh’s response to the allegations demonstrates that he does not belong on the US Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh Must Consider Withdrawing: No More Liars on the High Court, Please!

John W. Dean, former White House counsel to President Richard Nixon, shares the statement he made to the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 7, 2018, during the confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Dean also argues that Judge Kavanaugh’s denials of lying under oath in his earlier 2004 and 2006 confirmation proceedings, and the fact that he must now lie under oath again to get confirmed to the Supreme Court, have disqualified him for the job.

How Bad Will Things Become? Part Two: The Court’s New Extremist Majority Will Be Truly Radical

In this second part of a series of columns, GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan considers how the United States, and indeed the world, would shift substantially to the right with a Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. Buchanan explains not only what might change, but how we can expect that change to come about, as well.

Judge Kavanaugh on the Second Amendment

Alan Brownstein, an emeritus law professor at UC Davis Law, comments critically on the sole opinion—a dissent—US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has written about the Second Amendment. Brownstein points out two critical fallacies of Judge Kavanaugh’s position with respect to Second Amendment challenges to gun regulations articulated in that dissenting opinion.

The Ongoing Salience of Brett Kavanaugh’s Lurid Memo to Ken Starr

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recently publicized memorandum Brett Kavanaugh wrote in 1998 in the course of his work for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who was conducting the investigation of President Bill Clinton. Dorf points out that the sexually explicit questions Kavanaugh proposed in his memo should have been ruled inadmissible under applicable procedural rules. Inspired by Kavanaugh’s own line of questioning, Dorf concludes by proposing a question that he calls upon a senator to ask Judge Kavanaugh during his nomination hearing.

“Casing” Brett Kavanaugh: Why Senate Hearings Can and Should Explore His Views on Past Supreme Court Cases, and at the Very Least His Views on Applying Originalism Where It Would Lead to Progressive Results

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why the norm of not asking a Supreme Court nominee about his specific views about specific cases does not make sense and renders the hearing unhelpful in evaluating him as a potential justice. Amar explains the distinction between promising to rule in a certain way and predicting how one might rule, and he debunks some of the reasons often given for the norm of not asking (or answering) these types of questions during the confirmation hearing.

Why I Didn’t Sign the Kennedy Clerks’ Letter Supporting Confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf describes why he chose not to join the 72 other former law clerks of Justice Anthony Kennedy who signed a letter urging the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Dorf explains that the letter is at best misleading, and he argues that while a norm of deference may be preferable, that norm no longer exists, and deference to the president’s choice in this age of extreme polarization would amount to unilateral Democratic disarmament.

What We Can Learn About Stare Decisis (Respect for Precedent) from the Last Supreme Court Term

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on two decisions from the US Supreme Court’s 2017–18 term in which the Court notably overruled two longstanding constitutional precedents by 5–4 votes. Amar discusses the doctrine of horizontal stare decisis—the Court’s respect for its prior rulings—and focuses on three questions in particular these two cases present.

ABA Guidance on Judicial Internet Research: Ethics, Due Process, and the Murky Law of Judicial Notice

Justia editor and attorney Sarah Andropoulos comments on an advisory opinion issued last year by the American Bar Association on the propriety of judges conducting internet research on issues raised by cases pending before them. Andropoulos points out that while the advisory opinion does provide guidance as to when such research is permissible, it is rooted in the nebulous concept of judicial notice, and thus leaves many questions unanswered.

Replacing Justice Kennedy: Why Roe Won’t Be (Formally) Overruled, Same-Sex Marriage Rights Won’t Be Undone, and Affirmative Action Won’t Be Terminated, but Electoral Reform Could Suffer Greatly

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar argues that while Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the US Supreme Court will change the institution, it may not result in a significant shift to the right on some hot-button issues, as many anticipate. Amar explains that the greatest casualty of Justice Kennedy’s retirement might be electoral reform—not reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, or affirmative action.

The Supreme Court and Conservatives’ Right Not to Be Associated in Any Way With Disagreeable Things

GW Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan argues that the pro-business, anti-union expressed during oral argument and in the majority opinion in Janus v. AFSCME, written by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by the other conservative justices including Justice Anthony Kennedy, epitomizes both Kennedy’s right-wing fundamentalism and the direction in which the Court would have continued to move even if he had chosen not to retire. Buchanan points out that the trend among the conservative justices is to insulate conservatives—especially Christian Republicans—from having to be in any way connected to anything with which they disagree, such as collective bargaining, sexual liberation, or provision of contraception.

Justice Kennedy’s Civil Procedure Legacy

Touro Law professor Rodger D. Citron comments on a less-discussed aspect of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy’s jurisprudence: civil procedure. As Citron explains, Justice Kennedy did not author many civil procedure opinions, but the ones he did write were decidedly pro-business—limiting access to courts, capping punitive damages, and restricting personal jurisdiction in a personal injury context.

Can State Supreme Courts Protect Liberal Constitutionalism in the Coming Era of Reactionary SCOTUS Jurisprudence?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the suggestion that liberals who are distressed about the impending era of reactionary US Supreme Court jurisprudence should focus efforts on change at the level of state supreme courts. Without discouraging such efforts, Dorf explains why this approach faces significant obstacles, and he argues that anyone concerned about the direction of the Court should not restrict their political activities to judicial elections but engage in organized opposition on multiple fronts.

Kennedy’s Sadly and Unnecessarily Tainted Legacy

GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan comments on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he is retiring from the Supreme Court and the legacy he leaves. Buchanan laments that Justice Kennedy’s last term on the bench can only be described as tragedy, as he joined the conservative 5–4 majority on critical cases that Buchanan predicts will have a lasting harmful effect on individuals across the country and the world.

What Senator Grassley’s Recent Exhortation to (Conservative) Justices to Retire Promptly Says About our Federal Judicial Selection System

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar laments the present state of the federal judiciary system, recently illustrated by Senator Chuck Grassley's call to conservative Supreme Court justices to retire promptly. Amar explains why the proposal of term limits for Supreme Court justices would address some of the concerns of partisanship and would not present issues of judicial independence or due process.

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 is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George... 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

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 Robert A. Fox Leadership Program 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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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