Analysis and Commentary Posted in 2023-02
The Inadequate “Adequate State Law Ground” Doctrine

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week in Cruz v. Arizona, in which a 5-4 majority of the Court delivered a rare victory to a capital defendant. Professor Dorf describes the circuitous path Cruz’s case took and how it highlights an inadequacy in the standard for viewing the “adequacy” of state law grounds for denying federal judicial intervention.

Arizona Case May Change the National Conversation About Race and Capital Punishment

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on two cases currently working their way through the Arizona court system, in which defense lawyers from the Capital Unit of the Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender are raising innovative arguments based on the systemic racism in all aspects of American life. Professor Sarat argues that these carefully crafted and extensively documented motions call on judges to confront the reality of America’s racist past and continuing institutional racism before allowing the government to carry out any more “legal lynchings.”

Alabama’s Latest Steps to Use Nitrogen Hypoxia Recapitulate the Failed Promise of Humane Execution

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on recent news that Arkansas was “close” to completing the protocol needed to carry out executions by nitrogen hypoxia. Professor Sarat points out that nearly every method of execution was touted as “humane” when it was first introduced, but as history has proven time and time again, there is no such thing as a foolproof or humane execution.

The Hardest Question

Cornell professor of government Joseph Margulies describes the conundrum of reconciling the fact that prison sentences over 20 years are generally pointlessly cruel and unjust with the fury we feel against those who commit senseless mass murders. In particular Professor Margulies points to a new report by The Sentencing Project in support of their longstanding campaign to reduce the maximum prison sentence in the United States to 20 years, released on the same day that Erie County, New York, Judge Susan Eagan sentenced Buffalo shooter Payton Gendron to ten concurrent life sentences plus an additional 25 years to be served consecutively.

Donald Trump Wants to Use the Firing Squad, Mass Executions, and Videos to Turn Executions Into Reality TV

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on recent reporting that Donald Trump wants to use the firing squad, mass executions, and videos to heighten the drama of capital punishment. Professor Sarat argues that what Trump says about executions reveals the depth of his fascination with ghoulish things and that his latest death penalty musings offer a frightening reminder of the cruelty he would unleash if he is returned to the Oval Office.

For Any Good to Come of It, We Must Judge the Murder of Tyre Nichols in a Forgiving Spirit

In this fifth column in a series about the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers, Cornell professor of government Joseph Margulies argues that, for any good to come of Nichols’s death, we must judge his killers in a forgiving spirit. Professor Margulies explains what it means to judge in a forgiving spirit: to assess the actions of another anchored in the unshakeable belief that those who have done wrong are nonetheless one of us.

What’s the Difference Between Spying by Balloon Versus by Satellite?

In light of recent news that the U.S. shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon, Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the differences between spying by ballon and spying by satellite and explores some of the murky legal areas with respect to sovereign airspace, outer space, and military uses of both. Professor Dorf points out that modern satellites can capture remarkably clear images of Earthbound sites, but a comparably equipped surveillance balloon, in virtue of being ten or more times closer to the Earth’s surface, can necessarily capture even greater detail.

How to Think About Race in the Murder of Tyre Nichols

Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies points out that the murder of Tyre Nichols challenges the oversimplified conception of authority and race that prevails in this country. Drawing upon the language of historian Robin Kelley, Professor Margulies argues that police violence is the end result of a racialized processnot merely an expression of anti-Black racism by white police officers.

Alabama Needs to Change Course and Clean Up Its Death Penalty Mess

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on a recent petition by 170 faith leaders in Alabama asking Governor Kay Ivey to create an independent commission to study and address Alabama’s death penalty problems. Professor Sarat describes the recent botched executions in that state and laments that their eloquent appeal seems likely to fall on deaf ears in a state that is not yet ready to clean up its death penalty mess.

The Wrong Epiphany

Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies points out that the Memphis police officers who beat Tyre Nichols to death were doing exactly what the SCORPION unit of the department was supposed to do. Professor Margulies argues that until we collectively quash the belief that “we” are threatened until “they” are brought to heel, society will futilely pursue public safety while disregarding public suffering.

It’s the Culture, Stupid

Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies observes that the Memphis Police Department’s Policies and Procedures document is missing an entire section called “Response to Resistance,” which sets the rules governing the use of force by a Memphis officer, including deadly force. Professor Margulies points out that adopting or amending rules is not enough to solve the problem that led to the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers; rather we police culture must change. Indeed, Margulies argues, the SCORPION unit was doing exactly what Memphis leaders inside and outside the Department wanted it to do.

Some Thoughts on the Recent Controversies Concerning Law (and Med) School Rankings: Part I in a Series

In this first of a series of columns on the controversy over the rankings of academic institutions, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar explains the source of the controversy and describes some of the inconsistencies among the critics—among whom he counts himself. Dean Amar points out that academic rankings might look to sports rankings to see how the latter solves some of the issues inherent in prominent national rankings.

South Carolina Tries to Ramp Up Secrecy in a Frantic Effort to Restart Executions

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the many attempts by South Carolina to resume executions in that state. Professor Sarat describes the recent history of capital punishment in that state and notes that a recent decision by the South Carolina supreme court put on hold a case involving death row inmates’ challenge to the state’s attempt to use the electric chair and the firing squad.

The College Board Fails History by Caving to Ron DeSantis

Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on the decision by the College Board, which certifies Advanced Placement (AP) high school curricula, for acquiescing to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis by revising the curriculum in African American History. Mr. Aftergut argues that, by acceding to DeSantis’s bullying, the College Board has short-changed freedom of thought for the next generation of high school students and has helped erode our pluralistic future.

Do We Really Need the Third Amendment? Or What Can and Should We Do About Constitutional Vestiges

Amherst professor Austin Sarat points out the obsolescence of the Third Amendment and considers how we should regard that and other constitutional provisions that no longer serve the era in which we live. Professor Sarat argues that the Supreme Court has the unique authority to help the Constitution adapt to changing times, but the fascination of the Court’s current conservative majority with originalism threatens that adaptive capacity.

Does President Biden’s Plan to End the COVID Emergency Affect Pending SCOTUS Litigation Involving Title 42 and Student Debt Forgiveness?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether the Biden administration’s announcement that it would end the COVID states of emergency in May affect pending Supreme Court cases involving immigration policy and student debt forgiveness. Professor Dorf explains why the news is unlikely to affect the outcome of the immigration case and, conversely, why it might affect the student debt forgiveness case.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law and Director of the Center of Labor and... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more