Amherst professor Austin Sarat describes how Arizona has recently taken a small but significant step toward abolishing the death penalty, with actions by Governor Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes. Professor Sarat points out that Hobbs’s executive order calling for an independent commissioner to review certain aspects of the death penalty process in that state will shed light on a procedure that thrives only in darkness and secrecy.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on an opinion piece by ultra-conservative propagandist Ann Coulter in which Coulter is trying to revive America’s death penalty based on untruths and half-truths. Professor Sarat explains why the information Coulter cites is at best misleading and at times completely false, and he argues that any outrage should be directed at the death penalty itself, which is rife with problems at every stage.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies describes the crucial difference between a world where we ask, “What happened?” and one where we ask, “Who is to blame?” Professor Margulies explains that the first question seeks to identify the many factors that cause something bad to happen, with the goal of preventing that bad thing from happening again; in contrast, the second seeks only to punish.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent controversy over Hamline University’s dismissal of adjunct professor Erika Lopez Prater when a student complained after she displayed a historically important 14th-century painting of the prophet Muhammad. Professor Dorf explains why the university president’s technically-accurate statement that Lopez Prater was “not fired” highlights the exploitative nature of colleges and universities increasingly relying on untenured and underpaid adjunct faculty.
Criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Jon May describes the similarities and differences between the possession of classified documents by former President Trump and President Biden. Mr. May argues that neither is likely to lead to charges based on federal criminal statutes, but for vastly different reasons.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies describes the work of the Cornell University Parole Initiative (CUPI), which works with incarcerated persons serving life sentences in New York prisons. Professor Margulies describes the work of CUPI student volunteers and argues that anyone who perceives today’s young people as entitled “snowflakes” should look more closely at what young people are doing and get out of the way for them to fix what older generations have broken.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on remarks by former President Donald Trump that Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to supervise the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump, is motivated by hatred of Trump. Professor Sarat points out that Trump’s perception that those who oppose him hate him epitomizes narcissism and that psychologists have characterized Trump as personalizing every conflict and seeing every political relationship as transactional.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies observes that complaints about American life seem always to reinforce our ruthlessly unforgiving society. Professor Margulies describes one example of our tendency to reduce our most serious problems into simple but existential tribal grievances and another example of our inclination as a society to turn reflexively to punishment and eschew compassionate understanding that seeks to create a diverse community bound by shared values—both characteristic of an unforgiving society.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that Arizona’s new attorney general—Kris Mayes—should now seize her opportunity to make good on her promise to put a pause on all executions in that state. Professor Sarat describes Arizona’s recent spate of botched executions and calls upon Mayes to support a death-row inmate’s withdrawal of his request be executed, thereby making Arizona the latest state to confront the troubling issues that have plagued the death penalty across the country.
Harvard Law professor emeritus Laurence H. Tribe and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut argue that newly elected House Speaker Kevin McCarthy chose ambition over law, order, and country. Professor Tribe and Mr. Aftergut describe how Speaker McCarthy’s concessions to the radical Republicans put us over the brink and seriously endanger democracy.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which Congress introduced for the first time in 2012 and which President Biden finally signed into law on December 29, 2022. Professor Grossman explains the gaps in pregnancy discrimination law, the need to better address the realities of pregnant workers, and the ways in which the new law will better meet their needs.
Former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut explain why the victory of Kris Mayes over Republican election-denier Abe Hamadeh in the race for Arizona Attorney General is so important to the entire country. Mr. Harshbarger and Mr. Aftergut provide four reasons Mayes’s victory is crucial and how it illustrates why every vote matters.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the revelation that George Santos, who is scheduled to take the oath of office as a new member of Congress tomorrow, lied about nearly his entire biography. Professor Dorf explains why the First Amendment likely prevents candidates from being held criminally liable for their lies, but he points out other ways we can sanction candidates who blatantly lie to gain office.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s refusal to recognize a constitutional right to medical aid in dying. Professor Sarat describes the basis of that decision and explains why state courts should recognize that right based on their own state constitutions.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat reflects on capital punishment in 2022, pointing out that while it has continued its decades-long decline, it is still plagued with serious injustices. Professor Sarat argues that as abolitionists litigate to stop death sentences and executions, we must remember that the fight must ultimately be won in the political arena rather than only in the courts.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf reflects on what we might learn about criminal justice systems from FTX co-founder and former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and his brief stay in a Bahamian prison. Professor Dorf points out that the prison where Bankman-Fried was detained has been described as “not fit for humanity”—not unlike many prisons in the United States and elsewhere. He argues that no one—regardless of wealth or social status—deserves that kind of suffering on top of their term of imprisonment.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on Monday’s news that the January 6 committee approved criminal referrals for former President Donald Trump, John Eastman, and others. Mr. Aftergut argues that consistent prosecution and conviction of those who engage in political violence—not only those who participated on January 6, but also those who have done so afterwards—are vital to deterring future disorder.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that the Biden administration should join the rest of the world in officially opposing the death penalty by supporting the U.N. General Assembly’s resolution establishing a moratorium on executions. Professor Sarat points out that while supporting the resolution would not force the federal or state governments to change the status quo, it would put this country on record as committed to ending the death penalty—a particularly important accomplishment for a President who ran as an abolitionist.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which practically and symbolically enshrines protection for same-sex marriage in federal law. Professor Grossman explains the shameful history of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the changes effectuated by the Respect for Marriage Act.
UConn School of Law professor Julia Simon-Kerr comments on a case that squarely presents the question whether the courtroom demeanor and body language of a non-testifying defendant can play a role in the jury’s consideration of guilt or innocence. Professor Simon-Kerr points out that despite research showing no evidence that we can learn much, if anything, about a person’s untruthfulness from nonverbal cues, jurors frequently rely on those factors in deciding the credibility of witnesses and, apparently, even the culpability of non-testifying defendants. She suggests that it although it is unlikely the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case, the case presents the Court with a unique opportunity to begin a long overdue reexamination of the privileged role of demeanor in our system of proof.