Analysis and Commentary Posted in 2024-01
Should Death Penalty Abolitionists Try to Make the Death Penalty More Humane?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the recent execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama, questioning the humanity of this method and comparing it unfavorably to other methods like lethal injection and electrocution. Professor Dorf delves into the complexities of the death penalty, including the constitutional implications, the effectiveness of alternative execution methods, and the ethical dilemmas facing death penalty abolitionists and pharmaceutical companies regarding the provision of more humane execution drugs.

Has the Justice Department Just Issued a Warning to the CIA?

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies reflects on the Department of Justice’s recent indictment of four Russian officers for torturing an American in Ukraine, interpreting it as a significant legal and moral statement against torture. Professor Margulies speculates whether this action represents a broader condemnation of torture or a narrower stance against torture when Americans are victims, contrasting it with the U.S.’s own history of torture post-9/11.

Another New Execution Method, Another Botched Execution

Amherst professor Austin Sarat laments the continued occurrence of botched executions in the United States, focusing on the recent introduction of nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama, which resulted in another failed attempt. Professor Sarat describes the disturbing details of Kenneth Smith’s execution, where the promise of a quick and painless death by nitrogen hypoxia was broken, leading to a prolonged and torturous process, thus adding to the history of failed executions with new methods in the United States.

Why Some Sports Journalists May Want to Go to Law School Before They Opine About the Law: The Misguided Criticism of the University of Illinois and its Head Basketball Coach, Brad Underwood, Over the Terrence Shannon Jr. Case

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar defends the University of Illinois’ reinstatement of standout basketball player Terrence Shannon Jr. following a court injunction against his suspension due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Professor Amar argues that the University’s compliance with the court order, which recognized Shannon’s due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, was legally sound, and emphasizes that the decision to play Shannon was not influenced by the unproven allegations but rather by a legal obligation to treat him as any other team member in good standing. Professor Amar criticizes commentary by sports journalists like Gary Parrish for misunderstanding the legal nuances and the University’s obligation to adhere to the court’s ruling, noting that the decision to play Shannon is a matter of legal compliance, not a disregard for the seriousness of the allegations.

Rebel Yell: Why a Civil War Amendment Has Donald Trump Fighting to Keep His Name on the Presidential Ballot

Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, examines the constitutional and political implications of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that disqualified Donald Trump from running for president in 2024, based on his involvement in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Mr. Falvy discusses the legal and factual issues that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to resolve in the case, and the potential impact of its decision on the country's future.

The Supreme Court Should Use the Richard Glossip Case To Say That the Constitution Forbids Executing the Innocent

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that the Supreme Court should use the case of Richard Glossip, a death row inmate who claims actual innocence, to declare that the Constitution forbids executing the innocent. Professor Sarat points out the various procedural problems and prosecutorial misconduct in Glossip’s case, as well as the Supreme Court’s precedents on actual innocence claims—which support his argument for addressing this fundamental issue of justice.

The Supreme Court Gets a New Opportunity to Oppose Racism in America’s Death Penalty

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should grant review in Warren King’s death penalty case, which epitomizes the persistent racial biases in jury selection, especially in death penalty cases. Professor Sarat emphasizes the significance of the Batson v. Kentucky decision against race-based juror exclusion, critiques its inadequate enforcement, and argues that King’s case, marked by discriminatory jury selection, offers the Court a crucial opportunity to reinforce Batson and address racial prejudice in the legal system.

Trump and House Republicans’ Heads-I-Win-Tails-You-Lose View of Impeachment

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses Republicans’ political manipulation of the impeachment process, particularly in the context of Donald Trump’s flawed immunity claims and House Republicans’ baseless impeachment investigations against President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Professor Dorf emphasizes that impeachment should be grounded in actual high crimes and misdemeanors, not political disagreements or policy choices.

Massachusetts Supreme Court Takes an Important Step in the Battle to End Life Without Parole Sentences

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the movement against life without parole (LWOP) sentences in the United States, highlighting its flaws similar to those in the death penalty system, including racial disparities and the finality of judgment. Professor Sarat commends the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s recent ruling against LWOP for offenders under 21, signaling a significant step towards reevaluating and potentially ending LWOP sentences, paralleling efforts against capital punishment.

The Incredible, Inconsistent, Incoherent Legal Arguments About Presidential Immunity Made by Donald Trump’s Lawyer

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that in Tuesday’s oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Donald Trump’s lawyer, John Sauer, contorted the Constitution’s language to claim presidents have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts, despite Trump’s impeachment lawyers previously stating presidents could face prosecution once leaving office. Professor Sarat points out that the appeals court judges appeared unconvinced by Sauer’s arguments, questioning how his broad immunity claim aligns with constitutional checks on presidential power.

Volunteering to Die: A Client’s Agony and a Lawyer’s Dilemma

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies reflects on the ethical and legal dilemmas faced by lawyers representing death row inmates who choose to end their appeals and face execution, drawing on his own experience resisting a client’s choice to be executed, driven by the belief that the conviction was unjust and the death row conditions were inhumane. Professor Margulies grapples with the complexities of upholding the law, respecting client autonomy, and questioning whether intervening in a client’s decision to volunteer for execution is always the right course of action.

Alabama’s Plan to Use Nitrogen Hypoxia to Kill Kenneth Smith Draws International Condemnation

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses international condemnation of Alabama’s planned execution of Kenneth Smith using nitrogen hypoxia, a method untested in executions—highlighting the broader issue of the United States’ isolated stance on capital punishment among constitutional democracies. Professor Sarat details Smith’s case, noting a previous failed execution attempt and the criticism from UN experts, the Catholic association Community of Sant’Egidio, and the European Union, all emphasizing the inhumanity and potential violation of international human rights laws in using such an experimental method for execution.

Reflections on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Recent Invalidation of Non-Contiguous State Legislative District Lines, With Special Attention to the Ruling’s Relevance, If Any, to the Independent State Legislature Theory

UC Davis Law professor Vikram David Amar comments on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent decision invalidating the state’s legislative district lines based on its finding that they were unconstitutional due to non-contiguous territories, a decision criticized by conservatives as partisan. Professor Amar points out that this ruling, focused only on state legislative districts, does not directly implicate the “Independent State Legislature” theory discussed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Moore v. Harper case, as it pertains to state, not federal, elections. Furthermore, Professor Amar argues that the decision’s compliance with straightforward state constitutional text suggests federal courts are unlikely to find it violates due process or republican government principles, illustrating the limited role of federal oversight in state court interpretations of state law post-Moore.

This Is a Good Time to Revisit Mitch McConnell’s Jurisprudence and Thoughts About Presidential Immunity

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses how Special Counsel Jack Smith’s recent filing regarding Donald Trump’s claim of presidential immunity is grounded in arguments previously made by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. McConnell, on the Senate floor in 2021, recognized Trump’s moral and practical responsibility for the January 6 events, pointed out that impeachment is not the only avenue for accountability, and acknowledged that Trump, as a private citizen, could be subject to criminal and civil litigation for his actions while in office.

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 the Dwight D. Opperman Professor, Director, Center for Labor and Employment... 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