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

The Fury of the Mob: Comparing the Calls to Prosecute Clinton and Bush

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies compares and contrasts Donald Trump’s call for Hillary Clinton’s imprisonment and the same call against George W. Bush. Although he disagrees with both attempts to seek prosecution, Margulies argues that the call for Clinton’s imprisonment is at best akin to a lynch mob, whereas at least the desire to have Bush prosecuted reflects a good-faith attempt to use the law to punish war crimes.

A Defense of Shared Humanity: Criminal Justice and National Security

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies discusses two primary areas of law he has practiced during his career. Margulies explains how his time as a capital defense and civil rights attorney was a natural extension of his background in criminal defense investigation. Using an evocative example of a condemned individual deemed a threat to U.S. national security, Margulies shines a humanizing light on a demographic usually viewed as anything but by the American public in his argument against capital punishment.

Criminal Justice and the Myth of a Rising Tide

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies breaks down the 'rising tide' strategy of criminal justice and explains why this framework is ultimately misguided in the case of drug policy. Margulies explains that neither the class of drug nor the demographic of drug user is created equal within our criminal justice system due to a variety of factors that he explores in this column.

Racism, Classism, Feminism … and Brock Turner

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies responds to two of the most common criticisms of the trial and sentencing of former Stanford undergrad Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Margulies explains why a change to California law imposing a mandatory minimum sentence for this crime actually does not address these criticisms, and in fact exacerbates one of them.

2016: Who’s Rigging What?

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies considers whether, as Donald Trump claims, the election is “rigged.” Margulies looks specifically at felon disenfranchisement and finds a close correlation between local Republican control and restrictive approaches to voting.

Can Criminal Justice Reform Survive Cleveland?

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies laments the revival of the “law and order” rhetoric triggered by the recent shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge and seized upon as common ground for Donald Trump and the GOP. Margulies explains why greater police presence and more arrests actually make communities less safe, rather than safer, and argues that such changes threaten to undo the progress made in the criminal justice system over the past several decades.


Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies reacts to the lack of response by many important people and organizations to recent shootings by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Margulies points out that when leadership is silent on an issue, people will take to the streets to try to rectify it, often perpetuating violence.

Finding Justice in Baltimore

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies explains why a criminal conviction of police officers is neither a necessary nor sufficient component of justice. In fact, Margulies argues that those who would dismantle the carceral state should not be the first to invoke it by seeking convictions as the sole means of justice.

Discrimination & Criminal Justice in the 21st Century

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments on last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Foster v. Chatman, in which the Court considered whether a prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to remove all eligible black jurors constituted impermissible race discrimination. Margulies argues that true criminal justice reform requires us to acknowledge the pervasiveness of implicit bias in society and let go of the idea that the behavior is an individual wrong by one person against another, and reconceive it as a social wrong by a person against the community.

My Friend Michael

Cornell University Law professor Joe Margulies reflects on the life and accomplishments of his friend and colleague Michael Ratner, who passed away last week as a result of complications from cancer. As Margulies points out, Ratner recognized that dignity withheld from some is denied to all, and he suffered greatly for the great work he did.

War Crimes in a Punitive Age

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies discusses the challenges of comprehensive criminal justice reform. Even for victims of wrongful detention and torture, he argues that war crimes prosecutions are not the answer. With an eye toward a crime-free society, Margulies presents a compelling argument as to why the current, punitive nature of our carceral state should be dismantled.

The Puzzle of Reform, Part II

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the reason behind the particular configuration of criminal justice reform that we presently observe. Margulies argues that the pattern can be explained by the group-position thesis, which posits that racial attitudes are determined substantially by competition and conflict among racial and ethnic groups over resources, power, and status in society.

The Puzzle of Reform, Part I

In this first of a two-part series of columns, Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies begins to explain why criminal justice reform is happening. Margulies articulates three propositions toward which it is moving: (1) vulnerable populations should not be treated like “ordinary criminals”; (2) offenders deserve an opportunity to redeem themselves; and (3) the police should be monitored, but not closely regulated.

Dueling Delusions

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the current plight of the Republican party and the role of Donald Trump in that trajectory. Margulies focuses on the delusions that bedevil the GOP and points to the symbols in which the party refuses to believe and on which it simultaneously depends.


Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments on Donald Trump’s recent declaration that not only does he support torture, but that if he becomes president, he would utilize it more, regardless of whether it “works.” Margulies explores these statements as well as the identity of those who support him and his views.

When Judicial and Presidential Politics Collide

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the likely political and legal consequences of the recent passing of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Margulies predicts that, due to the ongoing presidential campaign, anyone President Obama nominates to fill the vacancy might become both a partisan tool in presidential politics and also a symbol for the future of America.

The Most Promising Reform

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies reflects on the devastating toll solitary confinement can take on those who are already part of a vulnerable demographic, as witnessed during his time as a criminal defense and human rights attorney. The story Margulies describes offers compelling support for criminal justice reform as it currently exists in the United States.