Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a statement by Justice Clarence Thomas (joined by Justice Samuel Alito) gratuitously expressing his hostility to the Court’s same-sex marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and his sympathy for Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even after the Supreme Court’s decision. Although Justice Thomas characterizes Davis and those like her as people who “refus[e] to alter their religious beliefs in the wake of prevailing orthodoxy,” Dorf points out that no one asked Davis to alter her religious beliefs. Rather, the lawsuit against her contends that she must provide services to the public in accordance with their constitutional rights, whatever her religious beliefs.
Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—warns of a Supreme Court with at least six Catholics, far greater representation than in the general population of the country. Hamilton points out that the disconnect between the composition of the Supreme Court and the rest of the United States is partly a result of the courts being the final haven for those who have lost the culture wars, given that the majority of Americans endorse greater civil rights for the oppressed.
In honor of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman explains how the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) can promote women’s equal citizenship and protect Justice Ginsburg’s legacy of shaping gender equality. Grossman argues that the PWFA could help break down entrenched occupational segregation in the American economy, and, in so doing, honor Justice Ginsburg’s lifelong commitment to ensuring that women can be full members of society.
Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar reflects on three writings by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that he finds himself most drawn to. Amar describes these writings as addressing ideas central to our form of democratic government, namely popular sovereignty, equal voting access, and judicial deference to Congress on policies involving the entire nation.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains why the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week should invigorate the left into seeking lasting change through the legislative and executive branches of government. Margulies points out that the myth of the Court as the ultimate defender of underrepresented minorities and the poor is, for much of the Court’s history, just a myth. He calls upon people everywhere to vote and make their will known, and he predicts that the Court will not stray far from the popular will.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—describes the value of writing to memorialize miscarriages of justices and lauds federal district judge Carlton W. Reeves for doing so in a recent opinion. Sarat points out that Judge Reeves faithfully applied the doctrine of qualified immunity in the case before him while also powerfully noting in his opinion how dangerous that the police officer’s unjust stop detainment was for that Black motorist.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent series of articles published on CNN.com purporting to reveal deep secrets about the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberations. Dorf points out that the so-called revelations about the Court reveal little or nothing that Court watchers don’t already know or infer, which, paints a reassuring picture of the Court as operating behind closed doors exactly as we expect it to.
Touro law professor Rodger D. Citron analyzes the oral arguments in the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding demands for President Trump’s financial records. Citron explains why it seems likely that the Court will reverse the lower courts’ decisions refusing to quash the House committee subpoenas and offers a number of observations based on his review of the transcript.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on a decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit holding that U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan exceeded his power by refusing to grant the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the case against Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security advisor. Sarat explains the relationship between the judiciary and prosecutors and points out that that judicial deference toward prosecutorial decisions can only be reconciled with constitutional governance if prosecutors respect, and are guided by, canons of integrity and professionalism. Sarat argues that the current leadership of the Justice Department shows utter disdain for such canons.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the recent dispute over the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and explains what President Trump and Attorney General Barr could have done to avoid the problem altogether. Amar describes a process that, if followed, could have allowed the administration to appoint their first-choice candidate without causing the controversy in which it now finds itself.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the proposal that eliminating or substantially reducing the qualified immunity currently enjoyed by police officers would address racism and police brutality. Although the idea has lately garnered some bipartisan support and could potentially have some benefit, Dorf describes two reasons to be skeptical of the suggestion. He concludes that for all of its flaws, qualified immunity may actually facilitate the progressive development of constitutional rights.
Touro law professors Jeffrey B. Morris and Rodger D. Citron conduct a profile of John J. Gleeson, the lawyer and former judge who has been appointed as a “friend of the court” to advise the federal district court on a matter where the U.S. Department of Justice is seeking dismissal of the case against former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Morris and Citron describe Gleeson’s background both on and off the bench and predict that, if given the opportunity to fulfill his role, Gleeson will certainly be fair and proper in determining the proper way to deal with Michael Flynn’s case.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on the recent news that the Justice Department will seek dismissal of charges against Michael Flynn. Sarat suggests that because the decision does not seem to advance the fair administration of justice in this case, the court should take the unusual step of refusing to grant the prosecutor’s motion to dismiss.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent per curiam decision staying an injunction by a federal district court in Wisconsin, effectively allowing the election in that state to go forward on with the normal timeline for casting ballots in place, despite concerns over the effects of COVID-19. Amar and Mazzone argue that, while the outcome might have been unjust, the plaintiffs in that case likely did not allege a constitutional violation and thus did not properly allege claims suitable to be remedied in federal court.
Guest columnist Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—points out one unusual effect of the COVID-19 pandemic: deferring the executions of death row inmates. Sarat observes that while past pandemics have not affected the rate at which states have executed inmates, last week the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted 60-day stays in the execution sentences of two men, and other states seem poised to follow suit.
Touro law professor Jeffrey B. Morris reflects on the impressive career of the Honorable Jack B. Weinstein, who recently announced his retirement from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York at the age of 98. Morris praises Judge Weinstein for his skill and humanity as a jurist, pointing out the many ways his opinions, articles, and speeches reflect his belief that “aiding the weak and suffering is the primary duty and soul of American law.”
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit holding that federal courts could not enforce a congressional subpoena to former White House Counsel Don McGahn because federal courts cannot adjudicate interbranch disputes. Dorf describes some of the major flaws in the court’s reasoning and explains why the ruling is a clear victory for Donald Trump and a loss for the constitutional system.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on New York’s lawsuit against the federal government over the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to exclude New York residents from eligibility for Trusted Traveler programs. Dorf describes some of the interesting legal questions the lawsuit raises in terms of administrative law, judicial standing, and constitutional law.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on case in which Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) brought a civil damages suit on behalf of an abused horse, now named Justice, against the horse’s former owner. Colb dismantles three arguments critics raise in opposition to recognizing abused animals as plaintiffs in lawsuits such as this one.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf offers one interpretation of Chief Justice John Roberts’s annual year-end report on the federal judiciary—that the Chief Justice intends to serve as a modest counterbalance to President Trump. Dorf supports his interpretation with text and context of the year-end report but offers his cautious praise to the Chief Justice with a few important caveats as well.