David Cole is the National Legal Director of the ACLU and the Honorable George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy at the Georgetown University Law Center. His most recent book is ­Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed. 
(July 2018)

Follow David Cole on Twitter: @DavidColeACLU.


This Takes the Cake

David Mullins and Charlie Craig, the couple who filed a complaint after a Colorado baker refused to sell them a wedding cake, at the Supreme Court, Washington, D.C., December 2017
“It is a general rule that [religious and philosophical] objections do not allow business owners…to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.” So wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which …

Trump’s Inquisitor

Jeff Sessions
Jeff Sessions has dramatically transformed the Justice Department, effectively causing it to renege on its historic mission of defending civil rights. He has fiercely defended the administration’s most unconstitutional initiatives, including a blatantly anti-Muslim immigration ban and a policy of denying teenage immigrants in federal custody access to abortion. He has reversed his own long-standing support for state’s rights to attack cities and states that have chosen, as is their constitutional prerogative under the Tenth Amendment, to leave enforcement of federal immigration law to federal officials. He is poised to overrule an immigration court decision that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence may obtain asylum here, an action that could turn away thousands of abuse victims each year. And he has overseen the appointment of a large number of deeply conservative—and overwhelmingly white and male—federal judges.

Taxing the Poor

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, holding an uncut sheet of one-dollar bills bearing Mnuchin’s name, Washington, D.C., November 2017

The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic

by Ganesh Sitaraman

White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America

by Joan C. Williams
To live in the era of President Donald Trump is to witness, sometimes on a daily basis, wide-ranging and unprecedented assaults on basic constitutional norms. But if Ganesh Sitaraman, the author of The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution, is right, the greatest threat to our democracy may be the tax …


The Supreme Court Looks Away

President Donald Trump listening as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke in the Rose Garden of the White House, Washington, D.C., April 10, 2017

Chief Justice John Roberts proclaimed that “Korematsu has nothing to do with this case.” He went on to write that Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 decision that backed the internment of Japanese citizens and immigrants based on their race, “was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history and—to be clear—has no place in law under the Constitution.” Strong words. But actions speak louder. Even as he acknowledged the court’s error in Korematsu, Roberts repeated it, virtually verbatim, in Trump v. Hawaii.

The Supreme Court’s First Great Trump Test: the Muslim Ban

A protest against Trump’s second Muslim travel ban order in Washington, D.C., March 7, 2017

The Supreme Court has sometimes deferred to the political branches on matters of immigration and national security policy, but never on religious bias. And the constitutional case against the travel ban is overwhelmingly strong. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment not only prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” it also forbids the government from singling out for disfavor any particular religion. Yet that is precisely what Trump’s travel ban does. 

Year One: It’s Up to Us

Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017

In a weak democracy, an authoritarian leader like Trump could do widespread and lasting damage. Such leaders often control the legislature, are immune from court oversight, and suppress civil society institutions. But our hallowed traditions of judicial independence, civil liberties, and a robust political culture have—thus far, at least—held Trump in check to an important degree. The courts cannot stand up to President Trump alone, however, and it would be a great mistake to think they could. In the end, the most important guardian of liberty is an engaged citizenry.

How Far Will the Court Go?

From top left: Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Stephen Breyer, Washington, D.C., June 1, 2017

The travel ban won’t be the only big case before the Court next term. It’s a heady line up, and the news that Justice Anthony Kennedy will not retire—at a time when, given the Oval Office’s current occupant, the judiciary’s check on the executive branch is more essential than ever—is important.