Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies observes that complaints about American life seem always to reinforce our ruthlessly unforgiving society. Professor Margulies describes one example of our tendency to reduce our most serious problems into simple but existential tribal grievances and another example of our inclination as a society to turn reflexively to punishment and eschew compassionate understanding that seeks to create a diverse community bound by shared values—both characteristic of an unforgiving society.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf reflects on what we might learn about criminal justice systems from FTX co-founder and former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and his brief stay in a Bahamian prison. Professor Dorf points out that the prison where Bankman-Fried was detained has been described as “not fit for humanity”—not unlike many prisons in the United States and elsewhere. He argues that no one—regardless of wealth or social status—deserves that kind of suffering on top of their term of imprisonment.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the case of Anthony Apanovitch—a man on Ohio’s death row who was exonerated yet whom the state still plans to execute. Professor Sarat describes Apanovitch’s unique situation and calls upon the Ohio Parole Board to recommend to Ohio’s governor that Apanovitch be pardoned and set free.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on a recent report by the advocacy group, the Legal Defense Fund, noting that the total number of people on death row is 3.6% lower than it was a year ago, and 35% lower than it was in 2001 when the death row population was at its peak. However, Professor Sarat highlights the inhumanity of allowing even this reduced number of people—indeed, anyone—to languish for years or decades on death row.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies comments on two seemingly unrelated concerns expressed by readers: the policy of a local sheriff in Florida to publish mugshots of juveniles who have been charged with a felony, and the oppressively hot conditions of prison cells in Texas. Professor Margulies explains that both of these problems are products of an unforgiving society that insists on differentiating people into “us” versus “them.”
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on a recent case in which the Oregon Court of Appeals held that Governor Kate Brown had the legal authority to grant mass clemency to more than 1,000 people convicted of crimes in her state. Professor Sarat points out that the decision joins a long line of others affirming the authority of governors and the President of the United States to grant clemency for “good reason, bad reason or no reason at all.”
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains why, when asked how he can defend someone accused of horrible crimes, he no longer uses the response that most criminal defense lawyers use—that a lawyer doesn’t defend their client’s behavior but instead holds the government to its burden by zealously defending their client’s rights. Instead, Professor Margulies responds to that question that he is defending the client’s humanity against society’s impulse to reduce a defendant to their deed, imprisoning them in their past.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains why social media is, by design, inimical to the idea of a forgiving society. He points out that, in general, we appreciate that a person makes choices not in a vacuum, but in the context of a combination of individual and societal factors, but social media eliminates this nuance and forces us to ignore what we ordinarily accept as the lesson of universal experience.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on Tennessee’s recent last-minute cancellation of the execution of Oscar Franklin Smith for a “technical oversight.” Professor Sarat points out that such problems typically mean that state officials identified contamination in the compounded execution drugs or the “use by date” had passed, but the veil of secrecy surrounding executions prevents the public from discovering the true nature of the problem.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat observes that many death penalty states have developed coordinated strategies of reassuring the public and denying any wrongdoing when an execution goes wrong. Professor Sarat points out that state officials demonstrate an indifference to an inmate’s evident distress and use empty, bureaucratic language to cover their tracks and avoid confronting the grim reality of what they are doing.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow Alabama to execute Matthew Reeves, an intellectually disabled death row inmate, by lethal injection rather than by his preferred method of nitrogen hypoxia. Professor Sarat explains why giving death row inmates a choice over their “preferred” method of execution is perverse and argues that the words “humane” and “execution” do not belong in the same sentence, no matter what method is used.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat responds to recent news that officials in Arkansas’s Washington County Detention Center have been administering ivermectin to prison inmates without their knowledge or consent. Professor Sarat argues that this coercive and unethical practice effectively treats them as human guinea pigs, violating their dignity and autonomy in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kathryn Robb, executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy and survivor of child sexual abuse, praises gymnast Simone Biles for setting a stellar example of courage and self-care. Robb points out that as a result of Biles’s actions, USA Gymnastics may have lost a team gold medal, but more importantly, future young elite athletes and children worldwide observed the actions of a hero.
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.