Analysis and Commentary on Courts and Procedure
Pete Buttigieg and his Critics Are Both Wrong About the Supreme Court

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg and his critics are both wrong about the U.S. Supreme Court having become especially political. Dorf points out that since the Court’s 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison the Court has been highly political, and the true problem lies with the unprecedented polarization of the political parties—not with the Court or the appointments process.

U.K. Supreme Court Prorogation Judgment Exemplifies Representation-Reinforcing Judicial Review

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent unanimous decision by the U.K. Supreme Court ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully in asking the Queen to prorogue Parliament. Dorf explains how that ruling highlights the error of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Rucho v. Common Cause, in which the Court declined to intervene in a political gerrymandering case, citing the so-called political question doctrine.

How to Detect a Liar

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to a colleague’s claim (yet unconfirmed) that jurors have an easier time distinguishing truth from falsehood when they read a transcript of testimony than when they listen to and watch the testimony directly. Assuming the claim is true, Colb describes why that claim might at first be surprising and also why, on further consideration, it makes sense. She proposes that if the claim is true, we ought perhaps to consider whether the distractors inherent in live testimony should excludable under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

North Carolina Three-Judge Panel Smartly Uses the Room the U.S. Supreme Court in Rucho v. Common Cause Left for State Courts to Enforce State Constitutions

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a recent decision by a panel of state-court judges in North Carolina striking down partisan gerrymandering schemes as violating that state’s constitution. Amar had argued after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rucho v. Common Cause that state courts would have to address partisan gerrymandering on “independent and adequate state-law grounds” (rather than on federal constitutional grounds), which is exactly what the North Carolina court did.

Could a Faithless Elector Ruling Doom an Attempt to Circumvent the Electoral College?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether a possible Supreme Court ruling in a “faithless elector” case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit could end the National Popular Vote (NPV) movement, which attempts to circumvent the Electoral College by interstate compact. Dorf provides a short background of NPV and the Tenth Circuit’s decision, and he explains why a decision by the Court decides to affirm the Tenth Circuit’s reasoning would threaten NPV.

Out Trumping Trump: Democrats Join the Attack on Courts but the United States Won’t Be Better for It

Guest columnist Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—expresses concern that Democrats are joining President Trump in undermining the public’s trust in the judiciary. Sarat specifically discusses an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by five Democratic senators in which the senators criticize the bias and partisanship of the Court’s conservative justices.

Exploring Cy Pres, Restorative Justice, and Earned Redemption through Fleabag: Part II in a Series

In this second of a series of columns, Illinois law professors Lesley Wexler, Jennifer Robbennolt, and Jennie Pahre continue their discussion of the legal mechanism of cy pres—by which a court decides a remedy based on how closely it serves the intended purpose (originally from the law of trusts). The authors draw upon the plot and characters of the television show Fleabag to illustrate how restorative justice might help re-center the #MeToo debate away from its seemingly sole punitive focus and more towards the twin purposes of victim restoration and deterrence.

Paying Tribute to Justice Breyer’s Quarter Century on the Court

In tribute to Justice Stephen Breyer’s 25 years of service as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses his favorite Breyer majority opinion, dissent, and concurrence. Amar describes Justice Breyer’s opinion in each case and explains why it is notable, and he considers what we might expect from the justice in the coming years.

Cy Pres and Restorative Justice: Part I in a Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois law professors Jennie Pahre, Jennifer Robbennolt, and Lesley Wexler discuss the legal mechanism of cy pres—by which a court decides a remedy based on how closely it serves the intended purpose (originally from the law of trusts)—a mechanism the U.S. Supreme Court has expressed interest in resolving but about which the Court (in a per curiam opinion) described some reservations. The authors offer restorative justice as a way to answer some of those lingering questions about the remedy and to better tie cy pres to its intended purposes.

Advice for State Courts in the Aftermath of Rucho

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, in which the Court held that disputes over partisan gerrymandering are political questions that are beyond the competence of federal courts to resolve. Amar argues that while state courts may attempt to process partisan gerrymandering claims under state statutes and state constitutional provisions, they would need to do so not under the federal Constitution but under independent and adequate state-law grounds.

Did the Trump Justice Department Seek to Change its Legal Team in the Census Case Because the Original Lawyers Refused to Lie?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent back-and-forth involving the Department of Justice seeking to place a new legal team on the Trump administration’s effort to justify the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Dorf points out that whoever ends up representing the administration, this attempted withdrawal may shed light on the merits of the case and the lengths to which the President and those who serve him are willing to go for the citizenship question.

“Pretext” and Review of Executive Decisionmaking in the Citizenship Census Question Case

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire, arguing that courts should not get involved in determining whether agency action is based on “pretext.” Rather, Estreicher suggests that this particular case was highly unusual and that the Court’s decision should be limited accordingly.

Big Little Truths About the 2018-19 Supreme Court Term

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar reflects on the decisions the U.S. Supreme Court issued at the end of its 2018–19 term. Amar observes three key trends at the Court: its focus on what constitutes improper government motive, concerns over broad congressional delegation to the executive, and tension over the meaning and theory of stare decisis.

Justice Department Brief Calls for Invalidation of All of Obamacare Without Justification

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on the position in the Department of Justice recently took with respect to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as “Obamacare”), declining to defend any part of the Act in court. Estreicher argues that the DOJ’s position lacks justification and explains the weaknesses of the district court’s reasoning striking down the entire Act.

What Franchise Tax Board v. Hyatt Adds to the Discussion of Stare Decisis and Reliance

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Franchise Tax Board v. Hyatt and what it says about stare decisis, the notion that prior Court rulings are entitled to respect in the Court today. Amar explores the point the dissent makes about reliance and argues that reliance principles should drive the Court’s approach to stare decisis.

When, If Ever, Should a Legislature Be Able to Enact a Law that it Knows (or Should Know) that Courts Today Would Invalidate?

Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone considers whether (and when) a legislature should pass laws that court are likely to invalidate under current precedent. Amar and Mazzone argue that when legislatures enact laws that are at the time unenforceable, the legislatures are not necessarily wasting legislative resources or defying constitutional limits, but sometimes helpfully informing the work of other governmental actors and guide the resolution of constitutional issues

“You Can’t Investigate Me, I Quit” or “I’ve Been Promoted”: Should Federal Courts Continue Misconduct Investigations of Former Judges?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the practice by federal courts of dismissing investigations into complaints of judicial misconduct if the judge retires from the bench or is elevated to justice status. Dorf argues that a full investigation of someone who is no longer a judge (or no longer a judge on a covered court) may still have implications for judges who continue to serve and thus that judicial councils should not construe their statutory mandate as narrowly as they did in the recent investigations of then-Judges Maryanne Trump Barry, Alex Kozinski, and Brett Kavanaugh.

Lawmakers Must Stop Cooperating in the Bishops’ Dirty Tricks

Marci A. Hamilton, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, and Kathryn Robb, executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy, describe the latest trick by Catholic bishops in Maryland to successfully lobby for a statute of repose to be included in a bill, undermining its ability to provide meaningful justice to abuse victims. Hamilton and Robb call upon legislators to stop cooperating with Catholic bishops, as doing so leads only to continued secrecy, suffering, and pedophile empowerment.

Did a Federal District Judge Defy the Supreme Court in Invalidating Male-Only Draft?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by a federal district court judge in Texas declaring unconstitutional the US’s male-only military draft. Dorf points out that the judge’s decision defies the Supreme Court’s admonition that federal court judges should follow even outdated Supreme Court precedents, “leaving to th[at] Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions” and considers whether there is any other reason that admonition should not apply.

Complicity in Trump’s Bogus Emergency

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency after Congress denied him most of the funding he requested for a border wall. Dorf describes the legal framework that allows the president to do so even in the absence of an emergency and points out that combined actions of Congress, the courts, and the People have created this situation.

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

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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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