Analysis and Commentary on Courts and Procedure
Supreme Court “Bump Stock” Case Reveals the Limits of Statutory Interpretation

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent 6-3 decision in Garland v. Cargill, which invalidated a federal regulation banning bump stocks by finding that they do not fall under the statutory definition of a machinegun. Professor Dorf argues that the Justices’ ideological views on gun control, rather than principled differences in interpretive methodology, best explain the divided outcome in this case and many other closely contested Supreme Court cases.

Justice Barrett May Serve as a Bridge Between Ideological Sides in the Trump Presidential Immunity Case

Criminal defense attorney Jon May discusses the oral argument the U.S. Supreme Court heard on April 25, 2024, regarding Donald Trump’s argument that the “January 6” case against him should be barred by presidential immunity. Mr. May argues that while some Justices are concerned about the implications of limiting presidential immunity, Justice Barrett’s approach of distinguishing between official acts done in the national interest and the misuse of presidential power for personal gain is a workable solution that would allow the prosecution of Trump’s actions on January 6 without negatively impacting future presidents making difficult decisions.

Justice Alito’s Modified, Limited Hangout

Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut discusses Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s refusal to recuse himself from a case involving Donald Trump’s claim of immunity related to the January 6th Capitol riot, despite flags associated with the insurrection being flown at Alito’s properties. Mr. Aftergut argues that Alito’s non-denial denials and failure to condemn the violence on January 6th raise serious questions about the appearance of impropriety and the Court’s legitimacy, suggesting that Alito should recuse himself to maintain public trust in the institution.

Progressives Need to Take the Gloves Off and Play Hardball with Our Rogue Supreme Court

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the increasingly partisan and unethical behavior of the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, providing examples of actions by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas that he argues undermine public trust in the institution. Professor Sarat contends that progressives in Congress need to take more aggressive action, beyond speeches and task forces, to hold the Court accountable and rein in rogue behavior, suggesting they use their oversight powers to subpoena justices and potentially reduce the Court’s budget.

Of Mass Torts, Multidistrict Litigation, and Collateral Estoppel: Notes on Justice Thomas’s Dissent from the Denial of Certiorari in E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Abbott

Laura Dooley and Rodger Citron, both professors of law at Touro University, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, discuss the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Abbott, a mass tort case involving the application of nonmutual offensive collateral estoppel in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) context. Professors Dooley and Citron argue that while Justice Thomas’s dissent raises concerns about fairness and due process for the defendant Du Pont, the Court’s denial of certiorari appropriately defers to the lower courts’ fact-specific analysis and recognizes that plaintiffs in mass tort cases have the same right to efficient procedures as corporate defendants, so long as their use is fair.

The Federal Judge Who Sold Justice: A Review of Gary Stein’s Biography of Martin Manton

Touro University, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, professor Rodger D. Citron reviews Gary Stein’s biography “Justice for Sale: Graft, Greed, and a Crooked Federal Judge in 1930s Gotham,” which tells the story of Martin Manton, a once-prominent federal judge who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit but resigned in disgrace in 1939 after being indicted on corruption charges for selling his office. Professor Citron explains that while Manton was a product of the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine era in New York, his misconduct was exceptional in extending to the federal judiciary, and his story serves as an important reminder that federal judges are human and not immune to temptations, underscoring the need for appropriate financial disclosures and oversight to maintain the integrity and authority of the courts.

How Not to Restore Public Confidence in the Supreme Court

Guest columnist Gary J. Simson—Macon Chair in Law at Mercer Law School and Professor Emeritus at Cornell Law School—addresses the potential conflict of interest if Justice Clarence Thomas participates in the Trump v. United States case, given his wife’s involvement in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Professor Simson argues that Justice Thomas should recuse himself from the case to avoid further damaging public confidence in the Supreme Court, and if he refuses to do so, the other Justices should publicly disassociate themselves from his decision to prioritize the Court’s and the nation’s best interests.

Courts Need to Respond to Trump’s Efforts to Intimidate Judges and Undermine Judicial Legitimacy

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses Donald Trump’s recent attacks on Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over Trump’s New York hush money trial, as well as on the prosecutor and the judge’s daughter. Professor Sarat argues that Trump’s contemptuous remarks and efforts to intimidate and discredit the judiciary should be met with contempt orders and appropriate penalties by the courts, as silence or acquiescence in the face of such behavior is far worse and threatens the integrity and independence of the judicial system.

The Supreme Court’s Misplaced Emphasis on Uniformity in Trump v. Anderson (and Bush v. Gore)

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar and Illinois Law professor Jason Mazzone coment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Trump v. Anderson holding that states cannot enforce Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to bar former President Donald Trump from primary election ballots due to his alleged role in the January 6 Capitol breach. Professors Amar and Mazzone argue that the Court’s reasoning, primarily based on concerns about nationwide ballot uniformity in presidential elections, is flawed because it fails to properly consider the Constitution’s overall design, which grants states significant autonomy in running presidential elections and selecting electors.

Judicial Chaos is a Symptom. (Mostly) Asymmetrical Polarization is the Disease

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the Supreme Court’s handling of the Texas v. United States case involving a controversial Texas immigration law, using it as an example of the broader issue of increased polarization and chaos in the federal court system due to the courts’ expanding “shadow docket.” Professor Dorf argues that while both political parties bear some responsibility for this polarization, Republicans have moved much further from centrism, contributing more to the acute political divide that has spread to the courts and is exemplified by the Texas Republicans’ extreme stance on immigration in this case.

Federal Jurisdiction and the Limited Liability Company: Should the Diversity Statute be Amended?

Touro University, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, professors Meredith R. Miller and Laura A. Dooley discuss the complexities of federal jurisdiction in cases involving limited liability companies (LLCs), suggesting an amendment to the diversity statute to simplify determining an LLC’s citizenship based on its state of creation and principal place of business. Professors Miller and Dooley evaluate the strategic implications of such a change from both procedural and business law perspectives, considering the impact on litigants’ access to federal courts, the influence of recent legislative efforts on ownership transparency, and the balance between offering fair legal proceedings and maintaining the advantages of state versus federal litigation.

Why Some Sports Journalists May Want to Go to Law School Before They Opine About the Law: The Misguided Criticism of the University of Illinois and its Head Basketball Coach, Brad Underwood, Over the Terrence Shannon Jr. Case

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar defends the University of Illinois’ reinstatement of standout basketball player Terrence Shannon Jr. following a court injunction against his suspension due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Professor Amar argues that the University’s compliance with the court order, which recognized Shannon’s due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, was legally sound, and emphasizes that the decision to play Shannon was not influenced by the unproven allegations but rather by a legal obligation to treat him as any other team member in good standing. Professor Amar criticizes commentary by sports journalists like Gary Parrish for misunderstanding the legal nuances and the University’s obligation to adhere to the court’s ruling, noting that the decision to play Shannon is a matter of legal compliance, not a disregard for the seriousness of the allegations.

The Incredible, Inconsistent, Incoherent Legal Arguments About Presidential Immunity Made by Donald Trump’s Lawyer

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that in Tuesday’s oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Donald Trump’s lawyer, John Sauer, contorted the Constitution’s language to claim presidents have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts, despite Trump’s impeachment lawyers previously stating presidents could face prosecution once leaving office. Professor Sarat points out that the appeals court judges appeared unconvinced by Sauer’s arguments, questioning how his broad immunity claim aligns with constitutional checks on presidential power.

Going to the Altar: Lisa Sarnoff Gochman’s Book on the Supreme Court

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin recounts her experience reading At the ALTAR of the Appellate Gods: Arguing before the US Supreme Court by Lisa Sarnoff Gochman. Amidst a tragic backdrop of recent violence at UNLV, Professor Griffin reflects on Gochman’s book, which provides a human perspective on appellate law through her experience arguing in the notable Supreme Court case, Apprendi v. New Jersey. As Professor Griffin describes, Gochman’s narrative highlights the challenges and intricacies of presenting a case before the Supreme Court, offering insights into the legal process and the personal journey of an appellate lawyer.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s Legacy: A Beacon of Judicial Restraint and Independence in the Supreme Court

Lauren Stiller Rikleen reflects on the legacy of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, highlighting her respect for judicial restraint and precedent, particularly in cases regarding reproductive rights. Contrasting O’Connor’s approach with the current Supreme Court's inclination influenced by the Federalist Society, Ms. Rikleen suggests that the Court’s current Justices could benefit from O’Connor’s example of independence and commitment to precedent. She also discusses the shift in the Court’s composition and ideology following O’Connor's retirement, noting the increasing influence of the Federalist Society in shaping a judiciary more ideologically driven and less bound by precedent, as exemplified by recent decisions like the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Bad and Worse Ways for the Government to Lose the SEC SCOTUS Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the pending U.S. Supreme Court case SEC v. Jarkesy, which questions the constitutionality of administrative law judges (ALJs) in the SEC and their role in enforcing securities laws. While Professor Dorf believes the Court should reject all three constitutional challenges presented in the case, he suggests that if the Court does rule against the government, the least disruptive outcome would be based on the removal issue rather than the Seventh Amendment or nondelegation claims.

A Red Warning for Justice for Survivors

Kathryn Robb, executive director of Child USAdvocacy, argues that the attendance of Louisiana Supreme Court Justices at the Red Mass, a religious event seeking divine guidance in decision-making, presents a conflict of interest and blurs the lines between church and state, especially in light of pending cases involving the Church. Ms. Robb highlights the historical and symbolic significance of the color red, used in the Red Mass, as a universal signal for danger and warning, suggesting that this tradition, though time-worn, compromises the integrity of the judiciary and the separation of powers in government.

Donald Trump’s Legal Strategy Draws its Inspiration from the 1969 Trial of the Chicago Seven

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that former President Donald Trump’s approach in his legal battles mirrors the tactics used by the defendants in the Chicago Seven trial, aiming to turn his trials into political theater and mock the legal process. Professor Sarat argues that Trump’s behavior, including his motion to televise proceedings and accusations against the legal system, are his attempt to subvert judicial proceedings and portray himself as a victim of political persecution, similar to the disruptive and publicity-focused strategies of the Chicago Seven.

Could Congress Solve the Supreme Court’s Disqualification Problem?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the Supreme Court’s new Code of Conduct, despite being a step towards addressing ethical concerns, is insufficient due to its lack of enforcement mechanisms and the Court’s history of questionable conduct. Professor Dorf suggests that, despite Justice Alito’s assertion to the contrary, Congress has the authority to impose stricter ethical rules on the Supreme Court and could even explore innovative solutions like a “pinch-hitter” system using retired Justices or federal appeals court judges to address recusal challenges.

Louisiana Judge Uses a Fog of Legalisms to Prevent Consideration of Clemency for Death Row Inmates

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on a decision by a federal district court in Louisiana denying a preliminary injunction in a case involving death row inmates seeking clemency. Professor Sarat criticizes the court’s narrow interpretation of the governor’s directive regarding clemency hearings, arguing that it exemplifies a legalistic approach that disregards the broader context and intention of the governor’s actions.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... 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 Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law and Director of the Center of Labor and... 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 Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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