Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College.

Professor Sarat founded both Amherst College’s Department of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought and the national scholarly association, The Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities. He is former President of that Association and has also served as President of the Law and Society Association and of the Consortium of Undergraduate Law and Justice Programs.

He is author or editor of more than ninety books including Lethal Injection and the False Promise of Humane Execution (Stanford University Press, 2022), The Death Penalty on the Ballot: American Democracy and the Fate of Capital Punishment (Cambridge University Press, 2019), The Lives of Guns (Oxford University Press, 2018), and Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty (Stanford University Press, 2014).

He is editor of the journal Law, Culture and the Humanities and of Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

Professor Sarat has received numerous prizes and awards including the Harry Kalven Award given by the Law Society Association for “distinguished research on law and society”; the Reginald Heber Smith Award given biennially to honor the best scholarship on “the subject of equal access to justice”; the James Boyd White Award, from the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, given for distinguished scholarly achievement and “outstanding and innovative” contributions to the humanistic study of law; and the Hugo Adam Bedau Award, given to honor significant contributions to death penalty scholarship by the Massachusetts Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

His public writing has appeared in such places as The New Republic, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, The National Law Journal, Slate, The Providence Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Aljazeera America, US News, CNN, Politico, The Conversation, and The Daily Beast. He has been a commentator or guest on HuffPost Live, The Morning Briefing on Sirius Radio, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, The Rick Ungar Show, Democracy Now, ABC World News Tonight, All in with Chris Hayes, The Point with Ari Melber, and The O’Reilly Factor.

Columns by Austin Sarat
In the Wake of Biden’s Withdrawal, We Should Remember That the Republican Convention Delivered a Masterclass in Hiding the Ball and Lying by Omission

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the Republican National Convention’s strategy of downplaying controversial issues like abortion, the January 6 insurrection, and election denialism. Professor Sarat argues that the GOP employed a “hidden ball trick” to conceal their true positions on these topics, deceiving voters and potentially harming democracy in their pursuit of power.

The Republican National Convention Sends a Wake-Up Call to Elite Colleges and Universities: They Will Need to Fight for Their Survival if Donald Trump Wins in November

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the potential threats to American higher education, particularly elite institutions, in the event of a Republican victory in the 2024 election. Professor Sarat argues that colleges and universities, especially prestigious ones, need to urgently develop a concrete political strategy to counter the GOP’s plans to reshape higher education through defunding, ideological attacks, and enforced “reforms” that could fundamentally alter their approach to education and threaten their survival.

Remembering Not to Forget

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses recent events in American politics, including a Supreme Court decision on presidential immunity, President Biden’s debate performance, and an assassination attempt on former President Trump. Professor Sarat argues that these events have been traumatic for the nation and warns against allowing them to induce collective amnesia about Trump’s past actions and rhetoric, emphasizing the importance of remembering the full context as the country approaches the 2024 election.

The Trump Assassination Attempt Is the Latest Threat to America’s Already Fragile Democracy, But It Is Not the Only One.

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump and its implications for American democracy and political violence. Professor Sarat argues that this event, combined with ongoing efforts to undermine election integrity and the increasing acceptance of political violence, poses a significant threat to the stability of American democracy and the principles of free and fair elections.

Should Justices Alito and Thomas Be Impeached?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the recent impeachment articles filed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez against Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, providing historical context for impeachment of Supreme Court Justices and examining the specific allegations against Alito and Thomas. Professor Sarat argues that while the impeachment is unlikely to succeed, it is justified given the Justices’ ethical transgressions, and it serves as an important condemnation of their conduct and a reminder of the need to uphold democratic principles and the integrity of the Supreme Court.

Why Amending the Constitution Is the Right Response to the Supreme Court’s Presidential Immunity Decision

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision granting presidential immunity from prosecution for official acts and proposes a constitutional amendment as a response. Professor Sarat argues that pursuing a constitutional amendment to overturn this decision is the best way to engage the American people in defending democracy, reaffirming commitment to constitutional governance, and resisting judicial supremacy.

Supreme Court’s Presidential Immunity Decision “Will Live in Infamy”

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the recent Supreme Court decision in Trump v. United States and its implications for presidential immunity and the rule of law in America. Professor Sarat argues that the decision “will live in infamy” and marks a dangerous shift towards authoritarianism by effectively placing the President above the law, contradicting fundamental constitutional principles and previous statements made by the Justices themselves.

The Supreme Court Decision to Allow Punishment for Being Homeless Further Eviscerates the Eighth Amendment

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the Supreme Court’s recent decision in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson and its broader approach to Eighth Amendment cases, particularly those involving cruel and unusual punishment. Professor Sarat argues that the Court’s conservative majority, led by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, is systematically weakening Eighth Amendment protections by adhering to a narrow originalist interpretation, ignoring evolving standards of decency, and showing indifference to vulnerable populations like the homeless.

Debate Moderators Should Ask Both Candidates About Political Violence

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the current state of political violence in the United States, focusing on recent polls, statements from political leaders, and the impact on public officials. Professor Sarat argues that there is an alarming asymmetry in the acceptance of political violence, with MAGA Republicans more likely to endorse it; he calls for addressing this issue through education, electoral efforts, and legal accountability, while urging presidential debate moderators to question candidates on this critical topic.

Arizona’s Embarrassing Death Penalty Mess Takes a New Turn

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses a legal and political controversy in Arizona surrounding the execution of death row inmate Aaron Gunches, involving various state officials including the county attorney, attorney general, and governor. Professor Sarat criticizes Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell’s unprecedented and allegedly illegal attempt to seek a death warrant, portraying it as a politically motivated move that undermines the established legal process and threatens to create chaos in Arizona's death penalty system.

The Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions Will Influence How Independents Vote in 2024

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the shifting sentiments of independent voters in the 2024 U.S. presidential race, examining recent polls, historical trends, and potential influencing factors such as upcoming Supreme Court decisions. Professor Sarat suggests that independent voters could play a crucial role in determining the election outcome, with recent polls showing a swing towards Biden, while also noting that the views of these voters remain malleable and could be significantly affected by future events, particularly Supreme Court rulings on key issues.

Should Faculty Be Punished for Publicly Criticizing the Institutions Where They Teach?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the controversy surrounding Harvard Dean Lawrence Bobo’s op-ed, which argued that faculty should face sanctions for publicly criticizing their university in ways that invite outside intervention. Professor Sarat ultimately disagrees with Bobo, asserting that while faculty should exercise good judgment when criticizing their institutions, universities must protect their right to do so to avoid undermining academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.

Hunter Biden’s Woes Reveal Joe Biden’s Character and the Kind of Father He Is

Amherst professor Austin Sarat examines how President Joe Biden has handled his son Hunter Biden’s legal troubles and what it reveals about the President’s character. Professor Sarat argues that throughout Hunter’s struggles, Joe Biden has demonstrated unfailing loyalty, love, and self-restraint—important character traits for a leader—and that voters can be assured of the President’s strong character based on how he has responded to this challenging situation.

An Insurrection by Other Means: Will Lawyers Lead the Next Coup Attempt?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the potential threat to the U.S. Constitution and rule of law posed by a second Trump presidency, as indicated by the statements and plans of Trump and his allies. Professor Sarat argues that defenders of democracy must take seriously what Trump’s advisors are saying about their intentions to radically transform the constitutional order, and be prepared to resist their efforts to subvert long-established legal norms and principles.

Is Criminal Prosecution Destined to Become a Regular Tool of Political Combat in the United States?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the reactions of former President Trump and his allies to his conviction in the New York hush money trial, including their claims that the prosecutions against him are politically motivated and their threats to retaliate with prosecutions against Democrats if Trump is re-elected. Professor Sarat argues that these false allegations and threats represent a dangerous escalation in the MAGA campaign to discredit the rule of law and turn criminal prosecution into a tool of political combat, which would undermine fundamental freedoms and allow future presidents to target individuals based on their political views rather than actual crimes committed.

Harvard’s New Policy on the “Institutional Voice in the University” Gets It Right

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses Harvard University’s recent decision to stop issuing official statements on public matters that do not directly affect the university’s core function, a move that other universities are also considering or have already taken. Professor Sarat argues that while this decision is controversial, it is a step in the right direction as it allows universities to focus on their essential purpose of seeking truth through open inquiry and debate, avoids the risk of chilling debate or alienating community members, and encourages individuals on campus to stand up for their beliefs through their work and lives as citizens.

The Day After the Trump Trial Verdict

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the potential outcomes and implications of the jury’s verdict in Donald Trump’s hush money and election interference trial in New York. Professor Sarat argues that regardless of the verdict, Trump has been more effective than his critics in shaping public opinion about the trial’s fairness, which may have significant consequences for the 2024 presidential election and beyond.

This Country’s Legal and Political Institutions Are in Trouble, and Trump Likes It That Way

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses former President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on the legal system and Congress, highlighting how his rhetoric exploits and exacerbates the American public's growing mistrust and disillusionment with these institutions. Professor Sarat argues that even if Trump is defeated in the upcoming election, the U.S. must address the underlying issues causing this vulnerability in order to restore public confidence and ensure the survival of American democracy in the face of Trumpism.

Progressives Need to Take the Gloves Off and Play Hardball with Our Rogue Supreme Court

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the increasingly partisan and unethical behavior of the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, providing examples of actions by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas that he argues undermine public trust in the institution. Professor Sarat contends that progressives in Congress need to take more aggressive action, beyond speeches and task forces, to hold the Court accountable and rein in rogue behavior, suggesting they use their oversight powers to subpoena justices and potentially reduce the Court’s budget.

Should Prosecutors Worry About Having Jewish People on Capital Juries?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the systematic exclusion of Jewish people from death penalty juries in Alameda County, California, and explores Jewish perspectives on capital punishment. Professor Sarat argues that while Jewish religious texts mention capital punishment, rabbinical interpretations and Jewish history have made many Jews wary of the death penalty, and the discriminatory practices in Alameda County highlight the need to end capital punishment altogether.