Analysis and Commentary on Human Rights
Assessing the Legality of Israel’s al-Shifa Hospital Complex Operation

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler examines the legality of Israel’s military operation at the al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war, focusing on specific allegations such as attacks on the hospital, the killing of Faiq Mabhouh, civilian protections, and treatment of journalists and medical staff. Professor Wexler argues that while the legality depends on contested facts that warrant further investigation, hospitals can lose protection if used for military purposes, and the treatment of protected persons like journalists and medical staff raises serious legal concerns under international humanitarian law.

Scandoval: Revenge Pornography and Complex Victims

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler discusses the lawsuit filed by Rachel Leviss against Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix over allegations of revenge porn, stemming from a scandal on the reality TV show Vanderpump Rules, where intimate videos of Leviss were shared without her consent. Professor Wexler argues that this case serves as a crucial opportunity for the public to learn about the legal nuances of revenge porn, highlighting its significance beyond the realm of reality TV by exploring the implications for sexual privacy, the distinction between consensual and non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and the broader societal need to respect individual autonomy over sexual imagery, regardless of the individual’s perceived moral character or actions.

The Execution of Ivan Cantu Is a Reminder of Why We Execute the Innocent and Always Will

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the execution of Ivan Cantu in Texas, using it as a case study to explore the broader issue of innocent individuals being executed in the United States. Professor Sarat argues that the continued use of the death penalty inevitably leads to the execution of innocent people, underscoring the urgent need to abolish capital punishment to prevent such irreversible injustices.

Of Embryos, Elections, and Elephants: Are Rights Always Zero-Sum?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision last week in LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, P.C., in which it equates frozen embryos with “extraeuterine children,” thereby using fetal personhood rhetoric to jeopardize IVF practices. Professor Dorf argues that this reasoning not only undermines prospective parents’ freedoms but also reflects a flawed understanding of rights as zero-sum, contrasting sharply with instances where expanding rights can enhance societal well-being.

The Blood of Every Child

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies describes his struggle with the polarized views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and expresses feeling alienated for holding nuanced positions on both sides’ rights and criticisms. Professor Margulies emphasizes the universal right to dignity and respect over territorial or partisan victories, advocating for a perspective that transcends traditional binaries and focuses on shared humanity and the equal right to thrive.

Should Death Penalty Abolitionists Try to Make the Death Penalty More Humane?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the recent execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama, questioning the humanity of this method and comparing it unfavorably to other methods like lethal injection and electrocution. Professor Dorf delves into the complexities of the death penalty, including the constitutional implications, the effectiveness of alternative execution methods, and the ethical dilemmas facing death penalty abolitionists and pharmaceutical companies regarding the provision of more humane execution drugs.

Has the Justice Department Just Issued a Warning to the CIA?

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies reflects on the Department of Justice’s recent indictment of four Russian officers for torturing an American in Ukraine, interpreting it as a significant legal and moral statement against torture. Professor Margulies speculates whether this action represents a broader condemnation of torture or a narrower stance against torture when Americans are victims, contrasting it with the U.S.’s own history of torture post-9/11.

Volunteering to Die: A Client’s Agony and a Lawyer’s Dilemma

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies reflects on the ethical and legal dilemmas faced by lawyers representing death row inmates who choose to end their appeals and face execution, drawing on his own experience resisting a client’s choice to be executed, driven by the belief that the conviction was unjust and the death row conditions were inhumane. Professor Margulies grapples with the complexities of upholding the law, respecting client autonomy, and questioning whether intervening in a client’s decision to volunteer for execution is always the right course of action.

Alabama’s Plan to Use Nitrogen Hypoxia to Kill Kenneth Smith Draws International Condemnation

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses international condemnation of Alabama’s planned execution of Kenneth Smith using nitrogen hypoxia, a method untested in executions—highlighting the broader issue of the United States’ isolated stance on capital punishment among constitutional democracies. Professor Sarat details Smith’s case, noting a previous failed execution attempt and the criticism from UN experts, the Catholic association Community of Sant’Egidio, and the European Union, all emphasizing the inhumanity and potential violation of international human rights laws in using such an experimental method for execution.

The Laws of War

NYU Law professor Samuel Estreicher defends Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas, arguing that its actions in Gaza comply with international humanitarian law, particularly the principles of military necessity, distinction, and proportionality. Professor Estreicher refutes claims that Israel is an “occupying power” in Gaza and that the right of self-defense does not apply to non-state actors like Hamas, comparing Israel’s military actions to those of the U.S. against al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The View From Cornell

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies advocates for the application of restorative justice models at Cornell University in response to recent incidents of harassment and threats affecting Jewish, Muslim, Arab, and Asian students. Professor Margulies argues that understanding and repairing the harm caused by both protected speech and unprotected conduct is crucial, and he stresses the importance of unity and mutual respect in overcoming divisions and hatred on campus.

Response to Hamas Terror Attack Shows That Colleges and Universities Don’t Know How to Treat Jewish Students

Amherst professor Austin Sarat criticizes the response of U.S. college and university administrators to the October 7 Hamas attacks, highlighting perceived inconsistencies in their reactions to different forms of hatred and violence. Professor Sarat also explores broader issues around the treatment of Jewish students on campus, citing statistics on declining enrollment in Ivy League schools, increased incidents of anti-Semitism, and a lack of targeted diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives for Jewish students.

Contempt of Cop

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies explores the journey of Rob Hildum, a former Assistant District Attorney in New Orleans and now a judge in Washington, D.C., who reflects on his past complicity in a system that disproportionately targets and harms Black individuals. Professor Margulies connects Hildum’s narrative with broader issues of systemic racism and police brutality, using recent cases like the killing of Ta’Kiya Young in Ohio to demonstrate that the unwillingness to challenge deeply ingrained beliefs and practices—like the appropriateness of “street justice”—perpetuates injustice.

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.

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.

“Pro-Lifers” Choose Death

Amherst professor Austin Sarat and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comment on recent news that Republican legislators in four Southern states have proposed legislation that would make abortion a capital offense in those states. Professor Sarat and Mr. Aftergut point out the hypocrisy and cruelty of so-called “pro-lifers” advocating the death penalty for those who seek—and those who assist others in seeking—an abortion.

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.

How Much Is Enough?

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies argues that the only condition that justifies a prison sentence longer than 20 years is an ongoing threat to public safety, to be determined after that sentence has been served. Professor Margulies points out that, contrary to what many people think, individuals convicted of some of the most serious offenses, and who have already served exceptionally long terms, are often the people who are most apt to be valuable and contributing members of society, and who are best prepared for freedom.

Alabama’s Latest Steps to Use Nitrogen Hypoxia Recapitulate the Failed Promise of Humane Execution

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on recent news that Arkansas was “close” to completing the protocol needed to carry out executions by nitrogen hypoxia. Professor Sarat points out that nearly every method of execution was touted as “humane” when it was first introduced, but as history has proven time and time again, there is no such thing as a foolproof or humane execution.

Why Unforgiveness Always Wins

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.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is the Dwight D. Opperman Professor, Director, Center for Labor and Employment... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

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

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more