In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law professor emeritus Alan E. Brownstein discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s apparent adoption of a “most favored nation” approach to protecting religious liberty under the Free Exercise Clause. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein describe some of the problems with this approach and point out that the reason religious exercise receives constitutional recognition and protection is not because the Constitution assigns some heightened value to religious belief and practices over secular interests, but because we do not want the state to interfere with religious choice and the autonomy of religious individuals to associate with a religion of their choice.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin and University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describe how the current Supreme Court is furtively undermining neutral and general laws by embracing a so-called “most favored nation” theory. Professors Griffin and Hamilton explain that under this dangerous approach, otherwise neutral laws that might incidentally burden religious exercise (such as zoning laws or public health regulations) are constitutionally suspect if they create any exceptions for purportedly secular activities, and, they argue, this can result in legal discrimination and harms to groups including LGBTQ+ individuals, children, those with disabilities, and others.
NYU Law professor Samuel Estreicher and Hofstra Law professor Julian G. Ku comment on a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, holding that the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars claims based on Nazi-era expropriation of Jewish property. Professors Estreicher and Ku argue that the unanimous decision in that case, Germany v. Philipp reflects a now-solid trend of Roberts Court decisions limiting the reach of U.S. law and jurisdiction to stay within the territory of the United States while also avoiding controversial and unsettled interpretations of international law.
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.
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.
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.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why Trump v. Sierra Club, a challenge to President Trump’s border wall currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, exemplifies the needless complexity of federal court gatekeeping law. Professor Dorf lists the various legal doctrines that restrict access to the federal courts and argues that their number and complexity tend to undercut, rather than serve, justice.
Steven D. Schwinn, a professor of law at the University of Illinois Chicago John Marshall Law School, explains how the Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing the Trump administration to proceed with efforts to exclude undocumented aliens from the census is consistent with the administration’s manipulation of the courts to achieve illegal policy. Professor Schwinn describes why that the Court’s ruling in the census case is an appropriate bookend to the travel ban ruling he received early in his presidency.
In light of recent news that Pfizer and Moderna have apparently created safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19, Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether the government can mandate vaccination for people who lack a valid medical reason not to get vaccinated. Dorf briefly addresses issues of federalism and religious objections to vaccination and then addresses the question whether mandatory vaccination might be inconsistent with a right to abortion.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers one aspect of the oral argument in California v. Texas, the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act to come before the U.S. Supreme Court. Specifically, Colb considers the way in which some of the Justices talked during the oral argument about the doctrine of judicial standing, and she calls out those Justices’ hypocrisy as to that issue.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the third challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that has made it before the U.S. Supreme Court, and considers how the case will play in the upcoming Georgia runoff elections. Dorf argues that absent a dramatic and highly unusual development—like a Supreme Court decision rejecting the ACA challenge in the next few weeks—that should help the Democratic candidates in Georgia’s runoff elections.
David S. Kemp, a professor at Berkeley Law, and Charles E. Binkley, MD, the director of bioethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, consider the implications of Pope Francis’s recently revealed statement endorsing same-sex civil unions as they pertain to a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Kemp and Binkley argue that the Pope’s statement undermines the moral legitimacy of the Catholic organization’s position and casts a shadow on the premise of its legal arguments.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explains why stigma is a central concept that came up during oral argument before the Supreme Court in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Griffin points out that some religions have long supported racial discrimination, citing their religious texts, but courts prohibited such discrimination, even by religious entities. Griffin argues that just as religious organizations should not enjoy religious freedom to stigmatize people of color, so they should not be able to discriminate—and thus stigmatize—people based on sexual orientation.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on two particular aspects of a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument last month, Torres v. Madrid. First, Colb discusses the distinction, for Fourth Amendment purposes, between touching someone directly with one’s hands and touching someone indirectly using an inanimate object. Second, she explains the difference between holding and dicta in a court opinion. Using these two points as illustrations, Colb shows how flexible the Constitution can be, lending itself to very different interpretations.
UF Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan describes how the U.S. Supreme Court is readying itself to declare Trump the winner of the election. Professor Buchanan points out that no court acting in good faith would apply the text of the Constitution or existing Supreme Court precedents in a way that would allow any of this scheme to see the light of day, but based on what Justice Kavanaugh has written and what Justice Gorsuch strongly suggests, the Court might not even have that minimum amount of good faith.
In this fourth of a series of columns examining the California v. Texas case challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar, Michigan Law dean emeritus Evan Caminker, and Illinois law professor Jason Mazzone consider what the appropriate remedy should be if the challengers prevail on the merits of the case. The authors explain why enjoining the 2017 amendment, which zeroed out the potential tax penalty for failure to maintain the specified health insurance coverage, is a more appropriate remedy than striking down the entire ACA.
Amherst College Associate Provost Austin Sarat and attorney Daniel B. Edelman argue that there is nothing the Supreme Court can do to prevent governors from certifying slates of electors that actually reflect the vote of the people in their states. Sarat and Edelman explain why Bush v Gore is both inapplicable, and by its own terms, never supposed to be used as precedent.
Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar describes an underappreciated influence of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—her carefully reasoned majority opinion in Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. As Dean Amar explains, in that case, Justice Ginsburg rejected nearly identical arguments to those relied on today in asking federal courts to challenge state courts’ and agencies’ rulings protecting the right of their citizens to vote as provided for under state statutes and constitutions.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explores several options that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden should consider if he wins the election and fulfills his proposal of convening a bipartisan commission of constitutional scholars to study and recommend court reforms. Dorf discusses the benefits and limitations of each option and describes how Congress and a President Biden could implement meaningful court reform that could withstand review by the Supreme Court itself.