Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of 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
Winter in Day Hall

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on a pro-Palestinian encampment set up by student activists at Cornell University, which the author views as a peaceful protest in line with the university’s stated values. Professor Margulies shares an opinion piece he wrote in the student newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun, in which he criticized the university administration’s cold response to the encampment, arguing that the students’ demands for divestment, acknowledgement, disclosure, and absolution are just, and that Cornell is failing to live up to its reformist ideals by deriding the protesters and remaining silent on the issues they raise.

Judges, Heretics, and Capital Punishment

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s request to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to slow down the pace of executions and Judge Gary Lumpkin’s critical response to that request. Professor Margulies suggests that Judge Lumpkin’s hostility towards Drummond’s motion is not merely due to moral insensitivity, but is an ideological attempt to admonish Drummond for perceived deviation from the staunchly pro-death penalty stance expected of his office, exemplifying the “black sheep effect” of harshly policing in-group boundaries.

Who Trusts the Intelligence Community?

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies discusses the issue of bias in the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and the need for research into public trust in the IC, particularly in the current “post-truth” era. Professor Margulies argues that while existing research suggests broad public support for the IC, more comprehensive and nuanced research is needed to understand how the current partisan and “post-truth” environment may be eroding trust in the intelligence function, and that the Department of Defense should commission such research to inform its understanding of and response to this issue.

The Blood of Every Child

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies describes his struggle with the polarized views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and expresses feeling alienated for holding nuanced positions on both sides’ rights and criticisms. Professor Margulies emphasizes the universal right to dignity and respect over territorial or partisan victories, advocating for a perspective that transcends traditional binaries and focuses on shared humanity and the equal right to thrive.

Tragedy, Foresight and the Carceral State

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies discusses the groundbreaking prosecution for involuntary manslaughter of Jennifer and James Crumbley, parents of Ethan Crumbley, who killed four classmates in a school mass shooting. Professor Margulies highlights legal and moral complexities surrounding causation and parental responsibility, questioning whether the parents’ negligence in not foreseeing their son’s violent actions, despite clear warning signs, justifies holding them criminally liable for the murders. Professor Margulies also reflects on the broader implications for societal expectations of parental foresight and the limits of criminal law in addressing such tragic events.

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.

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.

Dear Students, I Don’t Care What You Think

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies emphasizes the importance of critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning in the classroom, stating that while he does not care about the specific opinions of his students, he does care that these opinions are well-supported and thoughtfully articulated. Professor Margulies challenges students to understand and defend their beliefs, whether on controversial topics like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, prison reform, or the war on terror, and he expects them to be aware of the complexities, evidence, and counterarguments related to their views.

God’s Enduring Irony

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies considers the notion of equality and human nature, challenging the idea that monstrous actions make individuals fundamentally different from the rest of society. Professor Margulies argues that recognizing our shared capacity for brutality underscores that even those who commit heinous acts are not inherently “other” and should be held accountable as members of our collective humanity, rather than being cast out or labeled as fundamentally different.

The View From Cornell

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies advocates for the application of restorative justice models at Cornell University in response to recent incidents of harassment and threats affecting Jewish, Muslim, Arab, and Asian students. Professor Margulies argues that understanding and repairing the harm caused by both protected speech and unprotected conduct is crucial, and he stresses the importance of unity and mutual respect in overcoming divisions and hatred on campus.

Does the New York Times Owe Rudy Giuliani an Apology?

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies criticizes a recent article by the New York Times that focuses on Rudy Giuliani’s drinking habits, questioning its relevance to the prosecution of Donald Trump and suggesting that the article engages in public shaming. Professor Margulies argues that while Giuliani’s public behavior may be worthy of scrutiny, his personal struggles with alcohol should not be the subject of journalistic attention, especially when they have no proven relevance to his professional advice to Trump.

What Precisely Did Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis Do Wrong?

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies discusses the controversy surrounding Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis writing character letters in support of their friend and fellow actor Danny Masterson, who was convicted of rape. Professor Margulies argues that while Kutcher and Kunis should be allowed to plead for “social forgiveness” for Masterson, they crossed a line by encouraging the judge to doubt the jury’s verdict; the challenge lies in how society can adopt a more forgiving attitude without diminishing the severity of wrongdoings.

Contempt of Cop

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies explores the journey of Rob Hildum, a former Assistant District Attorney in New Orleans and now a judge in Washington, D.C., who reflects on his past complicity in a system that disproportionately targets and harms Black individuals. Professor Margulies connects Hildum’s narrative with broader issues of systemic racism and police brutality, using recent cases like the killing of Ta’Kiya Young in Ohio to demonstrate that the unwillingness to challenge deeply ingrained beliefs and practices—like the appropriateness of “street justice”—perpetuates injustice.

Who’s Afraid of the Surveillance State?

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies delves into the paradoxical attitudes society holds towards surveillance: while people criticize the invasion of privacy by the surveillance state, they also endorse and benefit from its capabilities, particularly when it serves a purpose they support. This conundrum is further complicated by the blurred lines between state and private surveillance, the use of publicly available data by companies, and the desire to hold the state accountable through the very means of surveillance.

Donald Trump, Robert Bowers, and the Criminal Law

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies reflects on two recent high-profile legal events: the indictment of Donald Trump for allegedly subverting democracy and the death sentencing of Robert Bowers for the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. Professor Margulies suggests that these cases, viewed by many as a triumph for the rule of law, represent societal attempts to protect integral aspects of American identity, with their punishment seen as purging threats to this identity. However, Professor Margulies argues that the law should not be weaponized to decide who belongs in society, as it usurps an authority that rightfully belongs to the people.

The Department of Justice Cannot Cure What Ails Memphis

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into the City of Memphis and its police department following the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, which exposed a culture of violence and indifference within the department. While Professor Margulies welcomes this investigation as a step in the right direction, he argues that the Department of Justice lacks the tools and authority to address systemic issues related to policing and public safety in Memphis; ultimately, the solution must come from local initiatives and collaboration within the community.

The Dangerous Allure of Seemingly Inescapable Facts

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis, in which the Court ostensibly held that a Colorado public accommodations law was unconstitutional as applied to website designer Lorie Smith because it compelled her to create artistic content in violation of her religious beliefs. Professor Margulies argues that the decision has potentially far-reaching implications that could return us to the days of Jim Crow—all because the stipulated facts in that case seemed (to some Justices) to lead to an inescapable result.

Good and Bad Reasons to Prosecute a Former President

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies distinguishes between the calls to prosecute officials from the George. W. Bush administration over their war crimes and the present prosecution of Donald Trump. Professor Margulies explains why he opposed prosecution of Bush but supports prosecution of Trump: Bush had the best interests of the country at heart, whereas the same cannot plausibly be said about Trump.

On to the Next Crisis

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies argues that the debt-ceiling “crisis” was manufactured by politicians and the media and that our nation is structurally induced to preserve and enflame such problems rather than solve them. Professor Margulies suggests that we view hype over alleged crises with skepticism and that we seek to understand the structural forces that drive “crisis-speak” so we can better resist its pull.

Finally, Some Good News

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on the recent news, reported by the Sentencing Project, that between 2000 (the peak year) and 2020, the number of children detained by the criminal legal system experienced a 77% decline; indeed, the number fell every year between 2000 and 2020. Professor Margulies points out that even while we inevitably construct social meaning from crimes in general, we should celebrate the bare fact of this reduction in juvenile incarceration.