Analysis and Commentary on Courts and Procedure

Judicial Nominee Refuses to Say Whether Brown v. Board Was Rightly Decided

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on an exchange during the confirmation hearing of Wendy Vitter, whom President Trump has nominated for a federal district court judgeship, in which Vitter declined to answer whether she thought Brown v. Board of Education was rightly decided. Dorf points out that Vitter’s refusal to answer that question may have been an attempt to avoid further scrutiny about her views about abortion but also served to inadvertently acknowledge what conservatives routinely deny—that a judge’s “personal, religious, and political” views necessarily interact with the legal materials.

Requiem for Reinhardt, Chief Justice of the Warren Court in Exile

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf writes a tribute to renowned Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who passed away last week. Dorf, who served as law clerk to Judge Reinhardt, extols the late judge’s principled commitment to serving justice without breaking rules and his unusual ability to bring both empathy and reason to everything he did.

A Settlement for Donald Trump and Stephanie Clifford?

Guest columnist Barry Winograd—an arbitrator and mediator, and lecturer at Berkeley Law—concludes his two-part series of columns on the conflict between President Donald Trump and Stephanie Clifford, the adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels. Winograd argues that both parties would benefit from settling their claims against the other so they can minimize disruption to their personal and professional futures.

The Trump–Clifford Legal Conflict: Who Decides What?

Guest columnist Barry Winograd—an arbitrator and mediator, and lecturer at Berkeley Law—analyzes the settlement agreement purportedly between Donald Trump and Stephanie Clifford, an adult film actress also known as Stormy Daniels. In this first of a two-part series of columns, Winograd describes some of the intricacies of the agreement as well as the budding litigation over it, highlighting some of the strengths and weaknesses in the legal arguments of each side.

The Meaning of Trump’s Plan to Keep Gitmo Open

Cornell University Michael C. Dorf explains the symbolism of President Donald Trump's announcement during his State of the Union address that he would be keeping the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay open. Dorf points out that despite the extraordinarily high cost of keeping the facility open, Republicans support its continued operation simply as repudiation of President Obama, who wanted to close it. Dorf points out that Republicans' opposition to closing Gitmo during the Obama presidency also jibed with the not-so-veiled racism of many Republicans who questioned Obama's citizenship and commitment to the US (disregarding the fact that President Bush actually released more Gitmo detainees than President Obama did).

The Constitutional Issues Driving the Events in the Hit Movie, The Post

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein describe and analyze the two main legal doctrines that give rise to the action in the blockbuster movie The Post, which chronicles the efforts of journalists at the Washington Post and the New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers. As Amar and Brownstein explain, the rule against prior restraint and the collateral bar rule animated many of the motives, moves, and countermoves that were documented in the acclaimed film.

Manafort’s Civil Action Attacking Special Counsel Mueller—A Publicity Ploy

John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, comments on former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s civil action attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Dean agrees with many other legal commentators that Manafort’s lawsuit is a publicity stunt and posits that, further, it gives Manafort’s lawyers a way to talk about his prosecution by the special counsel without violating the gag order imposed in the criminal case.

A Dozen (or so) Thoughts on Senate Expulsion (With Special Reference to the Roy Moore Affair)

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers some thoughts on the divisive ongoing conversation about the possibility of the Senate voting to expel Senate candidate Roy Moore from Alabama, if he should win next month’s special election. Amar looks at the history of the practice of Senate expulsion, as well as some of the uncertainties that surround it.

The Supreme Court Needs to Clarify When District Court Injunctions Blocking Federal Policies Can Extend Beyond the Actual Plaintiffs in a Case

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the increasingly frequent practice of federal district courts issuing injunctions that extend relief beyond the plaintiffs in the case. Amar describes the problems with this practice and calls upon the US Supreme Court to clarify the doctrine of when nationwide (or global) injunctions by federal district courts are permissible and when they are not.

The Fall of Seriatim Opinions and the Rise of the Supreme Court

Chapman University Fowler School of Law professor Ronald D. Rotunda describes the historic practice by the US Supreme Court of issuing seriatim opinions, where each justice wrote his own separate opinion, rather than the current practice of issuing an Opinion of the Court. Rotunda describes the role of Chief Justice John Marshall in changing the practice, which resulted in the most powerful Court in the world.

The Antidote to Trump: Humility, Character, and Integrity, a.k.a., Judge Edward R. Becker

Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, extols the late Judge Edward Becker as exemplifying the traits of integrity, intelligence, and goodness—traits Hamilton argues that President Trump lacks. Hamilton uses Judge Becker’s example to illustrate the point that not all those in power seek to abuse it.

Trump Wants Immunity

John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, comments on attempts by President Trump’s lawyers to defer civil lawsuits against him until after his presidency ends. Dean compares the lawsuit to similar ones filed against former Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

Does the Juror Deliberation “Privilege” Work? Questioning the Supreme Court’s Assumptions

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a juror’s use of racial stereotypes to vote for conviction may be used to invalidate the verdict, despite evidentiary rules that otherwise prohibit the use of juror testimony to challenge a verdict. Colb argues that the Supreme Court should have either extended the Sixth Amendment exception to cover other types of juror misconduct, or repealed the rule that prohibits the use of post-verdict juror testimony to impeach a verdict.

The Complexities of a “Motive” Analysis in Challenging President Trump’s Executive Order Regarding Entry to the United States

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein explain the complexities behind analyzing the motive underlying legislation and executive orders. Specifically, Amar and Brownstein highlight the difficulty in courts’ using perceived motive to strike down President Trump’s executive order regarding entry to the United States.

The Educational Function of Kabuki Confirmation Hearings

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the value of the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, despite the tradition in such hearings of the nominee evading answering questions about the most divisive legal issues of the day. Dorf argues that the Gorsuch hearing provides a unique opportunity for bipartisan repudiation of President Trump’s irresponsible attacks on the judiciary.

Should Federalism Play a Role in the Interpretation of Civil Rights Laws?

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf argues that in some contexts, consideration of states’ rights is relevant to the interpretation of federal statutes, but in other contexts—including the federal lawsuit over a transgender boy’s access to a boys’ restroom at school—principles of federalism are outweighed by other considerations. Dorf provides three examples of instances where federalism should play a role in the interpretation of federal statutes, and he explains why the transgender bathroom case differs from those instances.

Did Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Talk Permanently Taint His Immigration Policy?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether President Trump’s new executive order on immigration, anticipated to be issued this week, will fare better than Executive Order 13769, which temporarily banned nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries and all refugees from entering the United States. Dorf discusses Trump’s past public statements advocating for a Muslim ban during his presidential campaign and applies the factors courts may use in evaluating whether those statements can be considered evidence of Trump’s motives for his actions as president, should the constitutionality of his executive order be challenged in court again.

How Strong is San Francisco’s “Sanctuary City” Lawsuit Against the Trump Administration?

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and California civil litigator Michael Schaps consider the strength of San Francisco’s lawsuit against the Trump Administration arising out of its identity as a “sanctuary city.” Amar and Schaps discuss both the ripeness of the claim, a threshold procedural matter, and also the merits of San Francisco’s arguments.

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 Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... 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 of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

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

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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