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.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb why the question whether a state may abolish the insanity defense (presently before the Supreme Court) is similar to the question whether a state should adopt so-called animal welfare laws. Colb argues that both the insanity defense and animal welfare measures provide the public with a sense of moral relief but only if we willfully ignore the reality of how animals and criminal defendants are treated.
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.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued toward the end of the last term, in which a majority of the Court ruled that as long as police have probable cause for an arrest, it does not matter if their actual motivation for arresting someone violates the person’s First Amendment rights. Colb considers whether such pretextual, speech-based arrests are a problem, how they differ from other pretextual arrests, and how the ruling in this case resembles the law of a seemingly different area—post-conviction incarceration for convicted criminals.
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.
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.
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.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers when the void-for-vagueness doctrine, which has a due process component, does and does not make sense. Colb argues that differences in the length of a criminal sentence have little or no deterrence effect, so imposing long sentences as an attempt to deter crimes is a waste of resources.
Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—discusses how the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion in American Legion v. American Humanist Association rejects without giving proper respect to the “endorsement test” that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor first championed as a way of maintaining separation between church and state. Hamilton argues that the endorsement test was the right test at the right time in history and that the majority in American Legion attempted to erase Justice O’Connor’s contribution to the Court’s Establishment Clause doctrine.
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.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb and George R. El-Khoury, JD, comment on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last month applying the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement to permit the admission in evidence of a blood-alcohol test administered on an unconscious driver. Colb and El-Khoury describe some of the problems with using the exigent circumstances exception to arrive at the result in this case and propose some alternative approaches that might yield the same outcome but for stronger reasons.
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.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued this week invalidating a provision of the Lanham Act that prohibited registration of “immoral” and “scandalous” trademarks. Dorf provides a brief history of the legal protection for profane speech and considers the implications of a more precisely worded statute regulating profanity for trademark registration purposes.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, comments on the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, in which the Court upheld against an Establishment Clause challenge a large cross on public land in Maryland. Hamilton argues that in reaching its conclusion, a majority of the Court ignores the purpose of the Establishment Clause—to create a bulwark against the tyranny that results from the joinder of government and religious power to rule.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin discusses the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week upholding the display of a World War I memorial cross on public land. Griffin argues that the majority erroneously and unnecessarily complicated the question asked by the Establishment Clause, effectively forgetting that the United States is not a Christian nation and that the Constitution requires the government not to prefer one religion over any other (or none at all.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses a question the U.S. Supreme Court will consider next term—whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits a state’s abolition of the insanity defense. Colb points out the various ways in which our current criminal justice system arbitrarily excuses some sources of criminal conduct but not others, and she argues that because of these inconsistencies already inherent in the system, the insanity defense cannot logically be required.
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.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, in which the conservative majority departed sharply from the brand of originalism that Justice Clarence Thomas (who authored the opinion) and his fellow conservatives purport to favor. Dorf points out the inconsistency of the Court’s conservative bloc criticizing liberal-leaning doctrine based on broad text in rights cases while simultaneously (as here) fashioning right-leaning doctrine from the murky materials of structure and history rather than text.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the question Justice Clarence Thomas asked during oral argument in Flowers v. Mississippi potentially reflects a view inconsistent with one he and other conservative justices have strongly endorsed in the past. Dorf points out that Justice Thomas’s question, regarding the race of jurors struck by the defense counsel, suggests that discrimination against one group can cancel out discrimination against another, which is directly at odds with his expressed view that the Constitution forbids all government consideration of race.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case in which the US Supreme Court recently granted review, Ramos v. Louisiana, which presents the question whether states may permit conviction of an accused criminal on less than a unanimous jury voting “guilty.” Colb explains the doctrine of incorporation—by which most provisions of the Bill of Rights are held to be applicable as against the states as well as the federal government through the Fourteenth Amendment—and explains the possible significance of a unanimous jury verdict.