Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois, Wexler was a Professor of Law at Florida State University, whose faculty she joined in 2006 after serving as a Harry A. Bigelow Fellow and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School. 

She received a bachelor's degree in English Literature with honors from the University of Michigan and her J.D. with honors from the University of Chicago, where she served as an associate editor for the Chicago Journal of International Law and article editor for the Chicago Legal Forum. Upon graduating from law school in 2002, Professor Wexler clerked for Judge William Wayne Justice of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, and then for Judge Thomas Reavley of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. 

Professor Wexler writes, teaches and consults in the public international law fields, especially international humanitarian law, international disaster law, and human rights as well as in the anti-discrimination field more generally. She has published in a variety of journals, including the University of Chicago Law Review, the Yale Journal of International Law, the Chicago Journal of International Law, the Michigan Journal of International Law, the Wake Forest Law Review, the Georgia Law Review, and the Cardozo Law Review. 

Columns by Lesley Wexler
Proportionality in the Israel-Gaza Conflict: A Legal Primer

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler explores the complexities of the concept of “proportionality” in the Israel-Gaza conflict, examining it both from the lens of international law and public opinion. Professor Wexler delineates two aspects of international law that govern proportionality: “jus ad bellum,” which speaks to when force is permissible, and the laws of war, which set guidelines for conduct during conflict. She emphasizes that while public debates often conflate legal and moral considerations, a nuanced understanding of existing international law is crucial for assessing the legality of actions in such conflicts.

#MeToo and Good Character Evidence: The Possibility of #MeToo-Informed Leniency Letters

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler delves into the ethical complexities of writing leniency letters in sexual assault cases, particularly when informed by the #MeToo movement. Professor Wexler argues that while society should be forgiving, as Verdict co-columnist Joe Margulies suggests, leniency letters can often perpetuate “himpathy,” where the judge might overempathize with the defendant—especially if white and otherwise privileged—at the expense of the victim, and that these letters should carefully avoid reinforcing tropes rooted in structural misogyny and American rape culture.

#Metoo and Good Character Evidence: The Possibility of #MeToo Informed Leniency Letters

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler explores the ethical and societal complexities surrounding character letters in sex crimes trials, particularly focusing on the controversy created by Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’s leniency letters for Danny Masterson. Professor Wexler delves into the historical role and changing public sentiment about character evidence, referencing military court cases and the Brock Turner trial, and questions whether it is possible to write a leniency letter that aligns with #MeToo values without undermining victims or perpetuating harmful myths.

Cluster Mine Transfer: Cluster F*ck the Cluster Mine Norm? Part IV

In this fourth in a series of columns, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler explains how the U.S., Ukraine, and Cluster Mine Ban Treaty parties can reinforce norms against cluster munitions use and enhance civilian protections, given the controversial decision of the Biden administration to supply Ukraine with these munitions. Professor Wexler argues that the U.S. and Ukraine should take several steps to bolster their public commitments to keeping civilians safe from cluster munitions including: both joining the Cluster Mine Ban Treaty or negotiating international restriction on high dud rates under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons; Ukraine operationalizing its assurances about use, conducting investigations into past unlawful use, and implementing Civilian Casualty Tracking Analysis and Response cells; and the U.S. monitoring and reporting on Ukraine’s compliance, tightening restrictions on the munitions use, and ceasing transferring cluster munitions once conventional artillery becomes more widely available.

Cluster Mine Transfer: Cluster F*ck the Cluster Mine Norm? Part III

In this third in a series of columns about the Biden administration’s transfer of cluster mines to Ukraine, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler explains why, even in the absence of a clear international violation, the transfer implicates the norm against cluster mine use. Professor Wexler describes cluster mine norms before the U.S. transfer to Ukraine and explains why, in her view, the transfer is problematic.

Cluster Mine Transfer: Cluster F**k for the Cluster Mine Norm? Part II

In this second in a series of columns discussing the U.S. transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler discusses the domestic issues for the United States and international law issues for Cluster Ban Treaty members. Professor Wexler also addresses arguments about Ukraine losing the moral high ground and weakening the alliance.

Cluster Mine Transfer: Cluster F*** for the Cluster Mine Norm?

In this three-part series of columns, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on the recent news that the Biden administration will be providing cluster munitions to Ukraine. In this Part I, Professor Wexler explains what cluster munitions are, why the Biden administration decided to give them to Ukraine, the potential impact on civilian populations, and the international law issues the United States and Ukraine face as a result.

Forced Apologies: Thinking about Ordinary, Restorative, and Transitional Justice

Illinois Law professors Lesley Wexler and Jennifer Robbennolt comment on the recent decision by a judge declining to require an apology from the lawyers who submitted a brief with fictitious cases generated by ChatGPT. Professors Wexler and Robbennolt explain why the judge’s reasoning that “a compelled apology is not a sincere apology” assumes that a compelled apology has no value and fails to consider the other purposes apologies serve, such as acknowledgment to victims and affirmation of violated norms.

Accountability for Ukrainian War Crimes Ought to include Ukrainian War Crimes

Illinois law professor Lesley M. Wexler argues that based on the principle that justice needs to be justice for all, Ukraine should facilitate investigation of possible crimes by Ukrainians against Russians—not just crimes by Russians against Ukrainians. Professor Wexler contends that while U.S. and allied support for Ukraine must remain steadfast, encouraging Ukraine to make sure that all potential war crimes are investigated strengthens rather than weakens its moral authority.

Private Transitional Justice—The Case of the Slave Daguerreotypes Continued

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirming Harvard’s ownership over slave daguerreotypes, but allowing causes of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress and for reckless inflection of emotional distress to move forward. Professor Wexler explains how the majority opinion and each of the two concurrences—one of which invites future plaintiffs to submit novel claims to seek ownership and the other which proposes a cause of action for descendants of slaves to receive ownership of wrongfully attained property—might fit within transitional justice.

Private Transitional Justice—The Case of the Slave Daguerreotypes

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on a case in which a Massachusetts court affirmed Harvard’s ownership over several slave daguerreotypes despite the horrific and now criminal conditions under which the pictures were taken. Professor Wexler argues that the double injustice of mistreating enslaved people and using them to prove a theory of their lesser-than status calls for application of transitional justice principles, not ordinary law.

“A Tragic Mistake”: Understanding the Aftermath of the Kabul Drone Strike: Part IV—Assessing the U.S. Response

In this fourth in a series of columns about the U.S. military drone strike in Kabul that killed ten civilians (including seven children), Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler considers whether the United States has now satisfactorily provided the recommended amends and discusses what more ought to be done. As to what more is needed, Professor Wexler suggests congressional review of the incident, chain of command accountability decisions, and a broader review of drone strikes.

Rejecting Vaccination Status Discrimination: Learning from the Laws of War

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler argues that a just society should not punish unvaccinated persons in the allocation of even scarce medical care and resources, despite the exceptional circumstances of a global pandemic. In support of this position, Professor Wexler analogizes to the exceptional circumstances of war, pointing out that the laws of war also emphatically reject status discrimination in medical decision-making.

“A Tragic Mistake”: Understanding the Aftermath of the Kabul Drone Strike: Part III—Making Amends

In this third and final part of a series of columns on the Kabul drone strike in August that killed numerous civilians, Illinois Law professors Lesley M. Wexler and Jennifer K. Robbennolt suggest a robust approach to making amends for the victims of lawful harm imposed during drone strikes and other military uses of force. Professors Wexler and Robbennolt note the substantial support for various aspects of amends from many key stakeholders, including the victims and their families, members of the military who suffer moral injury as a result of the killings, and even the U.S.’s military objectives, which often rely on winning the hearts and minds of local populations.

“A Tragic Mistake”: Understanding the Aftermath of the Kabul Drone Strike: Part II—Condolence and Solatia Payments

In this second of a three-part series of columns on the Kabul drone strike in August that killed numerous civilians, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler addresses the U.S. approach to voluntary condolence and solatia payments. Professor Wexler explains what these payments require and how they often fall short, and she points out the gulf between commitments to making condolence and solatia payments and payments actually made.

“A Tragic Mistake”: Understanding the Aftermath of the Kabul Drone Strike: Part I—Detecting Mistakes and No Required Reparations

In this first of a three-part series of columns on the Kabul drone strike in August that killed numerous civilians, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler raises two key concerns: that civil society rather than the government brought the mistake to light, and that there is no legal requirement to pay reparations. Professor Wexler describes the reasons behind our reliance on journalists and civil society to investigate problems like this strike and explains the relevant laws of war that allow the victims’ families to go uncompensated.

#FreeBritney and Believe Women

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on Britney Spears’s petition to end her conservatorship and explains how her situation reflects general attitudes about believing women. Professor Wexler argues that the #FreeBritney movement may shape emerging norms of believability, which is often a precondition to convincing judges, jurors, co-workers, friends, and others in society about both the existence of abuse and its impact on its victims.

Reforming the Vatican’s Code of Canon law, #MeToo Insights, and Zero Tolerance

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on the recent overhaul of the Vatican’s Code of Canon law, pointing out areas in which it shows promise and also its possible shortcomings. Despite some features that warrant skepticism, Professor Wexler argues that the reforms reflect a serious reckoning with past scandals, evolving understandings of consent, and an attempt to use the criminal code to deter bad behavior both by sexual abusers and those who would protect them, rather than their victims.

Military #MeToo, Part II: In Bad Company— Canada’s Armed Forces #MeToo Crisis

In this second of a series of columns on military sexual harassment and sexual assault, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler compares and contrasts the U.S. military’s efforts to address the problem with how the Canadian military is addressing the same issue. Professor Wexler notes that Canada’s government has adopted several tools to address sexual harassment and misconduct that the United States has not yet accepted, and while the two militaries are not identically situated, we should pay close attention their efforts and see whether lessons may be learned.

Military #MeToo Justice: Is a Change Going to Come?

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on a recent announcement by the Army Forces Command that fformal sexual harassment complaints would be moved out of the direct chain of command, instead going to an investigating officer outside the accused’s brigade. Professor Wexler explains that, while this might read as a small procedural change, it is actually a meaningful step for an institution long committed to a commander-centric justice model.