Joseph Margulies

Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in Rasul v. Bush (2004), involving detentions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, and in Geren v. Omar & Munaf v. Geren (2008), involving detentions at Camp Cropper in Iraq. Presently he is counsel for Abu Zubaydah, whose interrogation in 2002 prompted the Bush Administration to draft the “torture memos.” In June 2005, at the invitation of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, Margulies testified at the first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on detainee issues.

Margulies writes and lectures widely on civil liberties in the wake of September 11 and his commentaries have appeared in numerous publications, including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the National Law Journal, the Miami Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Legal Times. He is also the author of the widely acclaimed book, Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (Simon and Schuster 2006). Among other accolades, Guantánamo was named one of the best books of 2006 by The Economist magazine. It received the prestigious Silver Gavel Award of 2007, given annually by the American Bar Association to the book that best promotes “the American public’s understanding of the law and the legal system.” It also won the Scribes Book Award of 2007, given annually by the American Society of Legal Writers to honor “the best work of legal scholarship published during the previous year.” He is also the author of What Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity (Yale Univ. Press 2013) and has won numerous awards for his work since 9/11.

Columns by Joseph Margulies

CNN is Wrong on Marc Lamont Hill

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies discusses a comment within a speech by Professor Marc Lamont Hill that sparked recent controversy and led to his termination as a political commentator at CNN. While critics claim Professor Hill’s speech implied a desire for the complete and total destruction of the State of Israel, Margulies argues that focusing on one line in a much longer speech is insufficient to glean the true meaning behind Hill’s message.

Preferences, Norms, and a President Who Can’t Tell the Difference

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains the difference between preferences and norms and argues that when social norms and personal preferences conflict, the norm must win. Margulies laments that President Donald Trump misunderstands the elemental distinction between social norms and personal preferences and accepts the norm as legitimate only to the extent it coincides with his personal views.

Especially After Pittsburgh

In the wake of the tragedy in Pittsburg, which in some ways mirrors the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies draws upon his experience representing Abu Zubaydah—the first person held in the CIA "enhanced interrogation program"—to provide an answer the question of how one can represent someone so many people hate. Margulies argues that the advocate’s highest calling is to insist upon humanity even when society is most determined to deny it.

The Future of the American City: Part Two

In this second of a four-part series about a new approach to community well-being, Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the problem of displacement. Margulies points out that influx of capital is not necessarily bad for community well-being but distinguishes gentrification, which can be good, from displacement, which is harmful to communities.

About That Op-Ed: Ideological Consensus Trumps Political Demagoguery

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains how the recent anonymous op-ed published in The New York Times underscores the fundamental continuity between the Obama and Trump administrations on issues of national security. As Margulies observes, our approach to national security in the post-9/11 world has achieved hegemonic status, but we should hope that some future president might not share the same hegemonic view of transnational terror and instead may try to set national security on a different course.

The More Things Change: Donald Trump and the National Security State

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes the ways in which the United States has changed (and remained the same) in its approaches to national security, from President George W. Bush to President Barack Obama to President Donald Trump. Margulies refers to a column he wrote in January 2017 predicting the trajectory of national security under President Trump and points out that many of his predictions have come to pass.

Exceptional, but not an Exception

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies relates the story of one young man whose early life experiences and mistakes landed him in prison but who, after excelling in the Cornell Prison Education Program—a program in which Cornell professors teach university classes to prisoners—was released on parole after his first parole hearing and now attends Cornell University as a student. Margulies explains that this young man—Darnell Epps—may be exceptional, but he is not unique in being a person incarcerated at an early age who can redeem himself and contribute great things to our society.

The Good of the Country, or the Good of the Agency? Some Final Reflections on Gina Haspel

Cornell University law professor Joe Margulies comments on the confirmation hearing of Gina Haspel for director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Margulies initially expressed reservations about Haspel, but he explains her strengths and weaknesses and draws the important distinction between someone who is good for the Agency and someone who is good for the country.

The Amazon Shuffle

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes some of the positive and negative consequences for whichever city Amazon decides will be home to its second headquarters. Margulies looks specifically at Olneyville—a low-income, predominately Latino neighborhood on the west side of Providence, Rhode Island, and concludes that on balance, the benefits of Amazon choosing Boston for its second headquarters could outweigh the risks to communities like Olneyville. Margulies calls upon Providence and indeed all cities to make firm, non-negotiable, legally binding commitments to protect and preserve affordable housing and to make sure that the benefits flow equitably to all residents.

The Only Unpardonable Offense

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies expands upon a prior column in which he argued that all of President Donald Trump’s attacks thus far on Special Counsel Mueller are not actually a threat to the rule of law. Margulies considers two other scenarios: delegating the task of firing the special counsel, which Margulies argues does threaten the rule of law, and pardoning those convicted by the special counsel, which he argues does not.

Donald Who? Reform Goes Forward Despite His Idiocy

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes how President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on criminal justice has not actually impacted (positively or negatively) the state of criminal justice reform across the country. Margulies describes the modest progress but cautions that the most significant shifts may be taking place at a level that is not yet detectable.

Lessons From the Gina Haspel Imbroglio

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies explains why we should withhold judgment about President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel. Margulies points out that, notwithstanding what we do know about Haspel’s role in facilitating torture at CIA black sites, there is much information we still do not yet know that could inform our assessment of her. He calls upon both the Left and the Right to reduce knee-jerk reactions and instead seek to make careful assessments based on complete information and facts.

Maybe He’s Just a Bum

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies considers the contention that President Trump's frequent tweets criticizing the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Mueller and others are an assault on the "rule of law." Margulies notes that the prevailing view on this rather nebulous concept seems to be that the law must be allowed to operate without criticism from anyone it targets. Not only is this interpretation overly literal and simplistic, Margulies argues, President Trump’s criticism also does not amount to such an assault. The president’s attempts to interfere with the ongoing investigation, his order for Special Counsel Mueller to be fired, and other actions, on the other hand, come far closer to constituting an (attempted) assault on the rule of law.

How a School Bus With No Wheels Taught Me to See Past Silos

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes inspiring story of the "Walking School Bus" in Olneyville, the low-income, predominately Latino neighborhood on the west side of Providence, Rhode Island. The Walking School Bus is a small group of parents who walk through a set route on a specified timetable, escorting children through dangerous areas to safely arrive at their respective schools. Margulies points out that this example is but one example of the importance of recognizing the intersection public health, crime, criminal justice, and policing-all critical and interrelated components of building stronger and safer communities.

The Seduction of Piety

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies continues his discussion of what he calls "pious stories" that come up in discussions of the criminal justice system, explaining why the media and policy-makers continue to repeat these stories despite their being egregiously incorrect or even dangerously incomplete. Margulies points to three characteristics common to all three of these stories: they reduce complex social processes into over-simplified parables about heroes and villains, they engender racial colonialism, and they are perpetuated by people deeply committed to criminal justice reform.

My Resolution for 2018: Less Piety, More Complexity

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes three stories among those who study the criminal justice system that are pejoratively described as “pious.” Margulies explains what it means to be a “pious story,” why such stories exist (because simple narratives are the easiest to translate into policy), and calls upon himself and others on both the Right and Left to abandon “pious” stories and tell whole truths instead.

Thanks for Everything. Now Get Out.

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies critiques some recent characterizations of Olneyville, a neighborhood on the west side of Providence, Rhode Island. Though the authors he critiques likely write with the best intentions toward Olneyville, Margulies points out that their articles capture three of the most important challenges facing Olneyville and neighborhoods like it across the country: the tendency to look at poverty without seeing the poor, the threat of stereotyping, and the specter of unmanaged and disruptive growth. Having spent much time in Olneyville himself, Margulies observers that the neighborhood has been changing for the better for years now, due to the hard work of the community itself.

Why Government?

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies points out that “the market” did not create any of the benefits to which most of us have come to feel entitled to—including workers’ compensation, mortgage interest deductions, veterans’ benefits, non-discrimination laws, and many more. Rather, the federal government created these things, and the government continues to play a critical and beneficial role in everyone’s lives, despite widespread sentiment that “government is bad.” Margulies looks specifically to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which is the primary reason affordable housing exists, albeit in lesser numbers than is currently needed, and points out that this and other critical services are at risk in the GOP tax bill.

Mass Murder and the Mundane

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies observes that the stock market—which tends to disregard even unusual events that within a range of predictability—reflected no surprise at the extraordinary carnage of three mass murders over a period of five weeks. Margulies points out that US stock markets saw steady growth despite Stephen Paddock shooting and killing nearly 60 people and wounding over 500 more in Las Vegas; Sayfullo Saipov killing eight people and seriously injuring over ten others in Manhattan; and Devin Patrick Kelly killing 26 people and injuring 20 more in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Does this truly mean that human destruction on a scale like this has no impact on national life?