Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—comments on the decomposition of the legal injection paradigm over the past few decades, since it was first adopted in Oklahoma in 1999. Professor Sarat observes the evolution of the procedure over time and points out that none of the changes has resolved lethal injection’s fate or repaired its vexing problems.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a Texas bill that would allow teens to access birth control without parental involvement. Professor Grossman describes the current state of reproductive health laws and policies in Texas and explains why the proposed bill is so important.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, argues that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was the first “big lie” in that purported to “restore” case law but actually gave religious actors the right to be above the law. Professor Hamilton notes two bills that have been introduced in Congress that would take measures to carve back RFRA’s destructive reach and which would not, contrary to some claims, threaten true religious liberty.
In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers four observations about recent calls for reform of the filibuster device in the U.S. Senate. Dean Amar suggests looking at state experiences with supermajority rules, as well as the Senate’s own recent past, and he considers why senators might be reluctant to eliminate the filibuster. He concludes with a comment on President Joe Biden’s suggestion that the Senate return to the “talking filibuster” and praises a suggestion by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) that the cloture requirement (currently at 60 votes) could be lowered gradually, the longer a measure under consideration is debated.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some ways in which we resist positive change; specifically, she describes her initial hesitation to becoming an ethical vegan and the rationalizations we use to justify resisting positive change. Professor Colb argues that animals are different from inanimate objects, and we must recognize that when anyone suffers, anyone regardless of species, we have an evil that rightly commands our attention and action.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf responds to three broad-based objections by Republican opponents to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: (1) that the already-recovering economy doesn’t need stimulus; (2) that many of the Act’s provisions have nothing to do with COVID-19; and (3) that there will be waste, fraud, and abuse. Professor Dorf explains why these objections ring hollow and argues that while the Act is not perfect legislation and will likely face challenges in implementation, it is a much better option than anything Republicans were offering.
Illinois Law professor Lesley Wexler explains how Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle might illuminate how a formal truth commission to deal with legacies of racism and colonialism might function in the British empire. Professor Wexler describes the purpose and function of state-operated truth commissions and notes the similarities and differences between those and the interview.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Israel holding that people who have undergone Conservative or Reform conversions in Israel qualify as Jews under the Israeli Law of Return. Professor Colb explains the significance of this decision and explores some of the downsides that remain in the Israeli approach to who counts as a Jew.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone argue that the U.S. Supreme Court correctly denied review last week of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions handed down before the 2020 election. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone explain why the majority denied review and point out that the dissenting opinions unwittingly demonstrate the rightness of the majority.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf describes the ostensibly complex legal issues presented in United States v. Arthrex, Inc., in which the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument earlier this week, and explains how those issues reflect an ideological divide as to other, more accessible matters. Professor Dorf argues that although many conservatives would like to dismantle the modern administrative state, our complex modern society all but requires these government agencies, so conservatives instead seek to make them politically accountable through a Senate-confirmed officer answerable to the president, furthering the so-called unitary-executive theory of Article II.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—argues that life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP) are as problematic and damaging as the death penalty. For this reason, Professor Sarat calls upon death penalty opponents to reconsider their support for LWOP sentences.
UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan argues that it is not only constitutional but necessary to review and nullify corrupt presidential pardons, including many of those granted by former President Trump. Professor Buchanan debunks the misconception that the presidential pardon power is “unlimited” as journalists have assumed, based on the language and context of the Pardon Clause and that of a seminal Supreme Court case interpreting it.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar comments on the apparent increase in the number of law school applications this year and offers some thoughts as to the reasons behind the trend. Dean Amar suggests that increased job opportunities and heightened social awareness might be behind the higher numbers of applications.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a “father knows best” bill that the Tennessee state legislature is currently considering, which would allow the father of a pregnancy to obtain an injunction against the mother’s having an abortion. Professor Colb notes that while requiring consent of the pregnancy’s father might make intuitive sense and most abortion decisions do include the father, she points out that “father knows best” (and father notification) laws disregard the interests of the embryo/fetus (by giving a father a say in whether to proceed with an abortion) and redistribute control of reproduction from women to men. Professor Colb argues that for these reasons, the Tennessee bill is even more objectionable than an outright ban on the procedure would have been.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent law passed in New York that legalizes commercial surrogacy.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to reject an emergency application from the State of Alabama to lift a stay on the execution of Willie B. Smith III. Professor Dorf observes the Court’s unusual alignment of votes in the decision and argues that, particularly as reflected by the recent COVID-19 decisions, the liberal and conservative Justices have essentially swapped places from the seminal 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, which established that the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to exceptions from neutral laws of general applicability.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court characterizing a “lay principal” at a Catholic school as a “minister” and therefore dismissing her claim under the Illinois Whistleblower Act under the so-called “ministerial exception.” Professor Griffin argues that the ministerial exception gives churches pure religious freedom to dismiss all legal claims against them, rendering them entirely unaccountable for their unlawful actions.
Illinois Law Dean Vikram David Amar comments on an unusual move by the U.S. Solicitor General’s office, sending a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court amending the position of the federal government in a case currently pending before the Court challenging the Affordable Care Act. Dean Amar explains why the arrival of a new administration should generally not trigger such position reversals, but he argues that the unusual circumstances—specifically the “exceptional implausibility” of the government’s prior filings—may justify the government’s action in this instance.
Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler explores the extent to which the role of famous, white, cis, heterosexual women as some of the most visible faces in the #MeToo movement helps or hinders the campaign. Professor Wexler proposes that conservation biology can help us understand the role of these celebrity women and harness their contributions to the #MeToo movement and also provide better assistance to other individuals and communities facing their own #MeToo struggles.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—comments on the news that both houses of the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation abolishing the death penalty in that state. Professor Sarat explains why Virginia’s change in policy is so significant: it has executed more people than any other state and is the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to abolish capital punishment.