Dorothy Samuels

Dorothy Samuels, a former member of the New York Times Editorial Board, is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Recent Articles

#MeToo Too Far: Reflections on a Judge’s Recall in California

The instinct to punish judges for an unpopular or mistaken decision is alive and well and imperiling judicial independence.

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
A week after residents of Santa Clara County in Northern California voted, by a lopsided 60–40 margin, to toss out Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky for his lenient sentence in the Brock Turner sexual assault case, disquieting concerns linger about the implications of the recall vote. Occurring amid a long overdue national conversation about sexual assault and harassment spurred by the wider #MeToo movement, the decisive margin of the rare recall—the first in California since 1932—was striking but not surprising. But, unfortunately, for many sitting judges in California and in the handful of other states that permit such recalls, there is also another message playing loudly now, one more chilling than uplifting: Unpopular rulings, including hard sentencing decisions, can cost you your job. Brock Turner is the former Stanford swimmer convicted in 2016 of sexually assaulting a woman on campus the year before as she lay unconscious behind a Dumpster following a...

Abortion Access, the Supreme Court, and a Troubling Case of Déjà Vu

Planned Parenthood’s new petition for high court review involves a state restriction on medication abortion nearly identical to one the nation’s top court ruled unconstitutional in 2016.

(Wikimedia Commons)
If you are unfamiliar with Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma v. Jegley , it is totally understandable. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and co-counsel Jeffrey Fisher of Stanford Law School filed a petition for Supreme Court review on the last business day before the holidays, and, so far, the move has received little attention. Yet, the pending certiorari request raises compelling issues: a major threat to abortion access in Arkansas and a lower federal court’s egregious departure from binding Supreme Court precedent in addressing the case. Specifically, Planned Parenthood is asking the justices to review and correct an abortion decision last July by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (covering Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota). The panel’s ruling overturned a properly granted preliminary injunction blocking an Arkansas requirement that would, if allowed to be...

The Wedding Cake Showdown in the Supreme Court

As the justices take up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case this week, a pithy amicus brief from First Amendment experts unravels the bakery owner’s free speech complaint.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
Big Supreme Court cases tend to attract a large number of friend-of-court briefs from interested non-parties seeking to illuminate different aspects of the dispute. Unsurprisingly, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission , the term’s marquee tangle involving a conservative Christian baker’s refusal to prepare custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple, citing his deeply-held religious convictions, has prompted a huge outpouring, with nearly 100 amicus briefs filed, equally divided between the two sides. Perhaps the most valuable of these—and well-deserving the Supreme Court’s attention—is the strikingly concise and clarifying brief filed in support of the couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, by some of the nation’s top First Amendment lawyers and scholars. Authored primarily by Walter Dellinger, the former acting-Solicitor General under President Bill Clinton, its signers include Floyd Abrams, the prominent First Amendment lawyer...

A Baker’s Toxic Recipe for Discrimination

A ruling for the bakery owner in the so-called “cake case” before the Supreme Court could inflict untold harm on gay people, true religious liberty, and civil rights.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
The new Supreme Court term has led to a raft of commentary suggesting that the marquee case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission poses a tough call for the nation’s highest court. The case, involving a conservative Christian baker’s defiance of his state’s nondiscrimination law in refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, is likely to be a 5-4 nail-biter, as many dedicated court-watchers predict. Hardly an isolated episode in the ongoing culture wars, Masterpiece Cakeshop is part of the current aggressive conservative drive for religious and “conscience” exemptions from neutral and generally applicable laws and policies not to their liking. The justices on the court’s farthest right flank (Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch) are expected to side with the baker, with the four more liberal members (Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and...

The Trump-Sessions Leak Crackdown

The DOJ’s investigation represents a threat to leakers, whistleblowers, and robust journalism.

AP Andrew Harnik
After President Trump tweeted that his Attorney General is “VERY weak” on pursuing “Intel leakers,” Jeff Sessions announced new investigations into how journalists gain access to secret information and a possible revamp of existing guidelines designed to protect reporters against government interference in newsgathering. As the leaks continue , the Justice Department seems primed to aggressively pursue its crackdown. Instead of emulating the best actions of the Obama Justice Department, such as enforcing voting rights rather than demolishing them, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears determined to mirror the worst: the over-zealous pursuit of leak cases that stained the tenure of Eric Holder, President Obama’s first Attorney General, chilling national security reporting. But Sessions may well outdo even Holder in going after unauthorized disclosures and reporters. At an early August news conference , Sessions cited an “unprecedented rise in leaks...