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

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?

Body Worn Cameras: The Dog That Won’t Bark

Cornell University law professor Joe Margulies comments on the findings of a recent study of police body cameras that body-worn cameras made no statistically significant difference in how police go about their jobs. Margulies points out that the story is not in the absence of a difference, but in people’s surprise to the absence of a difference. Indeed, it is the routine, not the anomalous, that requires reform.

Oh, Those Crazy Commissions

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes the ongoing military commissions operating at Guantanamo, costing US taxpayers over $90 million per year. Margulies explains why the commissions are are all symbol and no substance but why politicians will never suggest that they be shut down.

Changing Places by Changing Ourselves

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes the transformation of Olneyville, a low-income neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, as the result of comprehensive place-based solutions to crime and disorder. Margulies points out that the most difficult challenge to place-based strategies is politics and that before we can expect to meaningfully change places for the better, we must come to certain fundamental understandings of ourselves and our society.

Don’t Shred the Evidence

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments critically on the decision by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to destroy certain records regarding detainees held in ICE custody. Margulies argues that the information ICE seeks to destroy can be helpful in assessing the conditions, staffing, supervision, and practices in various facilities, for the purpose of improving the worst ones and learning from the ones with the best practices.

Symbols and Distractions

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the announcement by the White House that it would expand the U.S. prison at Guantanamo. Margulies describes the role that Guantanamo has taken on—including its extremely high cost of operations—and the symbolic role it has for Donald Trump and his supporters.


Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes the remarkable transformation of Phillips, a community in Minneapolis, from “Murderapolis” to a thriving, vibrant, safe community. Margulies uses this example to point out that when police and communities they serve work together effectively, truly positive change can emerge.

Puzzles About Police Violence

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies considers why it is so difficult for people to have productive conversations about police shootings. Margulies calls upon us to ask not whether an officer involved in a shooting is a monster or a hero, but instead whether tomorrow we can do better.

What We Really Mean by the Culture War

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies points out that teaching about religion is substantially different from promoting one religion at the expense of another, or of promoting religiosity at the expense of agnosticism or atheism. Margulies argues that a San Diego school district’s choice to teach about Islam promotes a safe climate of respect and toleration, notwithstanding claims that it has “surrendered” to Sharia law.

Can We Stop the Attorney General?

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies points out that Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears poised to take criminal justice reform nationwide in the wrong direction. Margulies explains why place-based, problem-solving approaches improve community wellbeing better than saturation policing strategies like Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance.

The Corner Market

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes how implementation of “criminology of place” can improve communities without expanding the carceral state. Margulies draws upon a specific example out of Cincinnati illustrating the power of actions based on criminology of place.

Changing Places

Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains the recent trend in criminal justice reform in Seattle to alter conditions that make a particular place criminogenic. As Margulies explains, most people and places have no involvement in criminal activity, and crime—especially violent crime—occurs at a tiny number of micro-places. Thus, the solution is not for police to view crime as widespread throughout a particular neighborhood and therefore increase police presence generally; rather, if they think of crime as confined to a small number of people and concentrated at an even smaller number of places, they can focus on working with, rather than against, communities to make them safer.