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
Justice Ginsburg’s Parting Gift

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains why the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week should invigorate the left into seeking lasting change through the legislative and executive branches of government. Margulies points out that the myth of the Court as the ultimate defender of underrepresented minorities and the poor is, for much of the Court’s history, just a myth. He calls upon people everywhere to vote and make their will known, and he predicts that the Court will not stray far from the popular will.

“Hi, I’m Richard, and I served 39 years for murder”

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on an essay by John J. Lennon, who is serving time in New York for murder, and a response by the sister of the murdered man responding to Lennon. Margulies points out that exceptional stories like Lennon’s set the bar too high, at the expense of the many who are ordinary.

America Has Failed

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes a few of the ways in which America has failed its people—its inability to feed, house, and provide water for its poor, while at the same time finding tools to support and enrich its wealthy. Margulies paints a bleak picture of the number of Americans who will go hungry, be evicted, or lack indoor plumbing and access to clean, affordable water. In contrast, Margulies points out that the stock market—in which 84% of all stocks owned by Americans are held by the wealthiest 10%—has fully recovered.

Lessons of the Cooper Affair

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the recent incident in which Amy Cooper, a young white woman, called the police on Christian Cooper, an African American man who was birdwatching in Central Park. Margulies argues that the repercussions of Ms. Cooper’s actions—her suffering public ridicule and losing the valuable commodity of anonymity—achieve both the consequentialist and retributivist purposes of our penal system, so for the state to prosecute her as well would serve only to humiliate and demonize her

The One Thing a Cop Can Do

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explores the idea of defunding the police, pointing out that we must first ask what tasks can only be performed by the police, and then ask the corollary question what tasks should the police do. Margulies uses several examples to illustrate the point that many tasks that we reflexively assign to the police can be better handled by others, and by assigning these tasks to others, we can effectively shrink the role of police in our society.

Hard Cases

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies uses the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta by police to explain some lessons for reform we might learn. Margulies calls upon us to use this case to reexamine the circumstances that should result in a custodial arrest and to shrink the function of police so as to use them only in the very few situations that truly require them.

Black Lives Matter Is Not Just A Slogan

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies calls for meaningful and lasting change—not just lip service—to demonstrate that black lives do indeed matter. Margulies points out that “black lives matters” cannot merely be a slogan; to effect true change, we must adopt policies beyond empty gestures to protect and lift up black Americans, including policies that might make our own lives less comfortable.

Our Demons

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on some lessons to be learned from the recent killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Though he laments the atrocious and unnecessary act of violence, Margulies too resists the urge to demonize, instead adopting a personal philosophy to better understand and approach humanity: There is no them. There is only us.

Can Workers Tell Governors to Drop Dead? The Moral Authority to Defy Lockdowns

In this second of a series of columns about the COVID-19 protests, Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies argues, with some caveats, that workers have the moral authority to reopen their businesses in order to sustain themselves. Margulies notes that while he is not advising anyone to disobey the law (and while he personally supports the lockdown orders), business owners facing the impossible decision whether to follow the law or sustain themselves and their families are morally justified in defying the stay-at-home orders.

The Simple Message of Tolerance That Eludes President Trump

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies calls upon President Trump to condemn the rise of anti-Asian calumny and violence and contrasts Trump’s actions today with those of President George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks. Margulies points out that immediately after 9/11, President Bush defined national identity in the language of equality and tolerance, stressing that Muslims and Arab-Americans were not the enemy.

COVID-19 Lays Bare the Cruelty of Neoliberalism

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies observes how the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the cruel folly of neoliberal governance. Margulies points out that neoliberalism—the idea that social problems are better solved by the private sector than by government—has brought millions of Americans to the edge of financial and physical ruin, and COVID-19 will push them over. He argues that now more than ever, we must be communitarians rather than individualists.

What Happens Now?

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies points out that in the face of the present COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be general consensus nationwide that the federal government should intervene to mitigate the economic damage, even among those who very recently believed that social problems are better solved by the private sector than by the government. Margulies asks whether this new perspective will also evoke compassion. He points out that, given the expected duration of the fight against the novel coronavirus, $2,500 is not nearly sufficient for a struggling family of four who can no longer work. What will we do for the tens of millions of Americans facing disaster?

How to Spot a Nation in Freefall

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies points out that when a nation doesn’t have the money to fix its roads but does give money away to help the rich get richer, that is a sign of a nation in collapse. Margulies describes the shift to neoliberal thinking under Nixon that has produced record levels of economic inequality and explains why the Trump administration’s proposed economic policies would benefit only the rich.

The Law Will Not Save Us

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies reminds us that the rule of law exists in the United States primarily to conceal politics; that is, one cannot rely on having “the law” on one’s side if politics are opposed. Margulies illustrates this point by replacing “the lawyers reviewed the law and decided” with “the high priests studied the entrails and decided”—a substitution that ultimately yields the same results.

Dismantling the Falsest Comparison: Why a Woman’s Right to Choose Has Nothing to Do With Nazism and Jim Crow

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies addresses comments made in an op-ed by Atlanta District Attorney John Melvin that opponents of restrictive abortion laws are similar to Nazis or supporters of Jim Crow laws. Margulies explains why the comparison is not only intellectually and morally bankrupt, but also shameful, deserving of the most direct condemnation.

How Should A Progressive Prosecutor Respond to Injustice Beyond Her Courtroom?

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains why and how a progressive prosecutor should work to correct injustice throughout the criminal justice system. Margulies argues that a prosecutor must not, for example, turn a blind eye to the prisons in her state or pursue convictions for unjust laws.