Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why the norm of not asking a Supreme Court nominee about his specific views about specific cases does not make sense and renders the hearing unhelpful in evaluating him as a potential justice. Amar explains the distinction between promising to rule in a certain way and predicting how one might rule, and he debunks some of the reasons often given for the norm of not asking (or answering) these types of questions during the confirmation hearing.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf describes why he chose not to join the 72 other former law clerks of Justice Anthony Kennedy who signed a letter urging the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Dorf explains that the letter is at best misleading, and he argues that while a norm of deference may be preferable, that norm no longer exists, and deference to the president’s choice in this age of extreme polarization would amount to unilateral Democratic disarmament.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on two decisions from the US Supreme Court’s 2017–18 term in which the Court notably overruled two longstanding constitutional precedents by 5–4 votes. Amar discusses the doctrine of horizontal stare decisis—the Court’s respect for its prior rulings—and focuses on three questions in particular these two cases present.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the US Supreme Court’s precedents recognizing, yet not clearly defining, “curtilage”—the area near one’s house that is constitutionally protected against warrantless searches by law enforcement. As Colb explains, the Court’s cases involving curtilage, including its recent decision in Collins v. Virginia leave many Fourth Amendment questions unanswered.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar argues that while Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the US Supreme Court will change the institution, it may not result in a significant shift to the right on some hot-button issues, as many anticipate. Amar explains that the greatest casualty of Justice Kennedy’s retirement might be electoral reform—not reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, or affirmative action.
GW Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan argues that the pro-business, anti-union expressed during oral argument and in the majority opinion in Janus v. AFSCME, written by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by the other conservative justices including Justice Anthony Kennedy, epitomizes both Kennedy’s right-wing fundamentalism and the direction in which the Court would have continued to move even if he had chosen not to retire. Buchanan points out that the trend among the conservative justices is to insulate conservatives—especially Christian Republicans—from having to be in any way connected to anything with which they disagree, such as collective bargaining, sexual liberation, or provision of contraception.
Touro Law professor Rodger D. Citron comments on a less-discussed aspect of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy’s jurisprudence: civil procedure. As Citron explains, Justice Kennedy did not author many civil procedure opinions, but the ones he did write were decidedly pro-business—limiting access to courts, capping punitive damages, and restricting personal jurisdiction in a personal injury context.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the suggestion that liberals who are distressed about the impending era of reactionary US Supreme Court jurisprudence should focus efforts on change at the level of state supreme courts. Without discouraging such efforts, Dorf explains why this approach faces significant obstacles, and he argues that anyone concerned about the direction of the Court should not restrict their political activities to judicial elections but engage in organized opposition on multiple fronts.
Chapman University Fowler School of Law professor Celestine McConville considers whether the US Supreme Court’s decision in Trump v. Hawaii establishes a new equal protection rule regarding when the presence of government animus will invalidate government action. McConville points out that under Trump, a stated nondiscriminatory justification will outweigh demonstrated animus, provided the means are “plausibly related” to that justification—a bar so low, she argues, it does a disservice to the integrity of equal protection doctrine.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin discusses the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in NIFLA v. Becerra, in which a 5–4 majority of the Court struck down a California law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to inform their pregnant patients about abortion options. Griffin explains why the majority’s decision can only be read as a strong anti-choice signal that will only grow stronger with Justice Kennedy being replaced.
Marci A. Hamilton, professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania, explains why the impact of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the US Supreme Court touches far more than just the issue of abortion—but the very notion of a constitutional right to privacy. Hamilton argues that if the Federalist Society has its way, the core reasoning of Roe v. Wade will be eviscerated and the constitutional right to privacy—from which the right to access to contraception and the right to engage in consensual sexual relations in private—will be eroded.
GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan comments on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he is retiring from the Supreme Court and the legacy he leaves. Buchanan laments that Justice Kennedy’s last term on the bench can only be described as tragedy, as he joined the conservative 5–4 majority on critical cases that Buchanan predicts will have a lasting harmful effect on individuals across the country and the world.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Carpenter v. United States, in which the Court held that the government must have a search warrant to obtain an individual’s cell-site location information (CSLI). Colb describes the Court’s holding and the dissenting opinions, and considers the Court’s minority (but growing) view that only property, and not privacy, is protected under the US Constitution—particularly when privacy rights encompass the right of a woman to obtain an abortion and the right of same-sex couples to engage in private, consensual sexual acts.
GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan comments on two of last week’s decisions from the US Supreme Court that at least nominally involved tax law issues. Buchanan explains why the decisions suggest that the justices remain confused about taxes and financial issues more generally and suggests that the lower-profile case from last week may end up having the most important and negative effects going forward.
Marci A. Hamilton, professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania, comments on this week’s news from the US Supreme Court—its decisions upholding President Trump’s travel ban, striking down a California law affecting so-called crisis pregnancy centers, and the news that Justice Anthony Kennedy will be retiring. Hamilton cautions that the cases portend that, President Trump will, in effect, impose a religious test on candidates for Justice Kennedy’s replacement—a requirement expressly prohibited by the Constitution.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf condemns the Supreme Court’s 5–4 decision upholding President Trump’s travel ban but describes a few silver linings that the ruling contains. Specifically, Dorf points out that the majority left open the possibility of future litigation challenging allegedly unlawful border policies, explicitly overruled its decision in Korematsu v. United States (which upheld the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II), denounced President Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, and served as a clear reminder that We The People can and should hold our elected official accountable for enacting or supporting abominable policies.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on the US Supreme Court’s 5–4 decision in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, in which the Court upheld the legality of Ohio’s voter list maintenance procedure. Griffin explains some of the key points made in each of the four opinions and shares a deeply personal story about how she came to understand how seemingly innocuous list-maintenance laws like the one in this case disproportionately affect minorities, low-income people, the disabled, the homeless, and veterans—just as Justice Sotomayor described in her separate dissent.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein discuss two doctrinal issues raised in the Supreme Court’s majority and concurring opinions in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Amar and Brownstein explain how Colorado could have reached the results it reached without disfavoring religion or religious liberty/equality at all, and they point out that the Court’s focus on the motives of the commissioners is unusual given the Court’s prior decisions on the role of invidious motives.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the form of originalism typically espoused by scholars—in which constitutional interpretation aims to recover the original public meaning of the text—often ends up being abused in practice. Judges and justices borrow the respectability of public meaning originalism to justify a generally discredited form of originalism that seeks answers in the framers’ and ratifiers’ intentions and expectations. To illustrate this point, Dorf points to Justice Gorsuch’s recent dissent in Sveen v. Melin, which looks not to the text of the Contracts Clause but to what Justice Gorsuch inferred the framers and ratifiers intended and expected.
Marci A. Hamilton— one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Practice and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania—comments on the recent decision by the US Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Hamilton explains the scope and limitations of the Court’s decision and notes the significance of its narrow holding in that case.