In this second of a series of columns, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler continues analogizing Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry to a truth commission and describes some goals against which we might measure the success of a truth commission. Professor Wexler proposes such measures as (1) whether the commission finishes its mandate and widely disseminates its findings, (2) whether it establishes a definitive narrative of the relevant abuses, and (3) whether it serves as catharsis for individual victims. She suggests that although some initial facts on the ground are negative, reform and reconciliation are still possible.
Illinois Law professor Lesley Wexler explains how Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle might illuminate how a formal truth commission to deal with legacies of racism and colonialism might function in the British empire. Professor Wexler describes the purpose and function of state-operated truth commissions and notes the similarities and differences between those and the interview.
Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler explores the extent to which the role of famous, white, cis, heterosexual women as some of the most visible faces in the #MeToo movement helps or hinders the campaign. Professor Wexler proposes that conservation biology can help us understand the role of these celebrity women and harness their contributions to the #MeToo movement and also provide better assistance to other individuals and communities facing their own #MeToo struggles.
Illinois law professor Lesley M. Wexler and Nicola Sharpe discuss various corporate responses to the recent storming of Capitol Hill and consider whether such responses might constitute private transitional justice. Professors Wexler and Sharpe point out, however, that simply vocalizing a commitment to social justice, diversity, and inclusivity is not enough; corporations should diversify boards and leadership representation and take other quantifiable steps that transform corporate culture and processes.
In light of the events of January 6, Illinois law professors Lesley M. Wexler and Colleen Murphy identify some preliminary questions raised by private actors sanctioning other private actors for the latter’s potentially criminal activities at the Capitol. In particular, Professors Wexler and Murphy explain why the event gives rise to transitional justice concerns, and through the transitional justice lens, they assess the advantages and disadvantages of private action in this context.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—explains the enhanced risk of COVID-19 infection in the federal death row in Terre Haute, not only among inmates but among those necessary to carry out executions. Professor Sarat calls upon the Trump administration and other officials to focus on saving, rather than taking, lives inside and outside prison.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explores why people have such strong feelings about the #MeToo movement (whether they are advocates or opponents) and suggests that both sides rest their positions on contested empirical assumptions about the behavior of men and women. Colb argues that what we believe to be true of men and women generally contributes to our conclusions about the #MeToo movement and our perceptions about how best to handle the accusations of those who come forward.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on Attorney General William Barr’s recent order to resume federal executions and the political implications of that order. Sarat briefly describes the history of the federal death penalty in the United States and explains that, regardless of what state we live in, when the federal government puts someone to death, it does so in all of our names.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on some lessons to be learned from the recent killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Though he laments the atrocious and unnecessary act of violence, Margulies too resists the urge to demonize, instead adopting a personal philosophy to better understand and approach humanity: There is no them. There is only us.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—discusses the crisis the COVID-19 pandemic is having on America’s jails and prisons. Sarat argues that early release is a good start, but it cannot be the only solution, because all people, in and out of prisons, deserve to be treated with dignity.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies observes that the COVID-19 pandemic reveals our shared equality as individuals but also lays bare the inequality of American society. Margulies argues that equality is an outcome achieved by one in aid to another, and by government in aid to all in need.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies calls upon President Trump to condemn the rise of anti-Asian calumny and violence and contrasts Trump’s actions today with those of President George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks. Margulies points out that immediately after 9/11, President Bush defined national identity in the language of equality and tolerance, stressing that Muslims and Arab-Americans were not the enemy.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies points out that in the face of the present COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be general consensus nationwide that the federal government should intervene to mitigate the economic damage, even among those who very recently believed that social problems are better solved by the private sector than by the government. Margulies asks whether this new perspective will also evoke compassion. He points out that, given the expected duration of the fight against the novel coronavirus, $2,500 is not nearly sufficient for a struggling family of four who can no longer work. What will we do for the tens of millions of Americans facing disaster?
Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler discusses signs of a possible reversal of the global trend toward nationalism and European rejection of migrants. Wexler explains how a broad regional immigration agreement emerged and what a migration distribution proposal might look like, as well as the important questions such a proposal raises.
In light of recent revelations about Ryan Adams, a powerful musician and music producer, Illinois law professors Robin B. Kar and Lesley Wexler discuss the collective harm the scourge of sexual harassment inflicts on society, depriving it of countless and invaluable contributions. Kar and Wexler point out that research demonstrates that experiences of sexual harassment cause not only individual harms to women (such as decreases in mental and physical well-being) but also organizational withdrawal, decreases in organizational commitment, and decreases in productivity and job performance. The exact losses due to this withdrawal have yet to be measured, but evidence suggests the magnitude is enormous.
Marci A. Hamilton—professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania and founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA—discusses the significance of Patriots owner Robert Kraft being charged with soliciting a prostitute at a strip mall in Florida, after a sting exposed a sex trafficking scheme there. Hamilton points out the differences between the handling of Kraft and the mishandling of Palm Beach sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and suggests Kraft may be the “canary in the coal mine” indicating a shift of power from perpetrators to their victims.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recognition by the United States and some other constitutional democracies of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader pending new elections. Dorf points out that many countries suffer under incompetent, corrupt, and authoritarian leaders just as Venezuela did under Nicolás Maduro, yet constitutional democracies typically do not rally behind the ouster of those leaders. What makes Maduro’s case different?
Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler discusses a draft treaty by the International Labor Organization that would address, on a global scale, many of the issues of workplace harassment and sexual assault that the #MeToo movement has brought into the spotlight. Wexler describes how the treaty is grounded in human rights language and would create protections for workers far more expansive than even those recognized under current US law, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler reports on the genocide convictions recently handed down by the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia after trials concluded over crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime. Wexler suggests three main takeaways of the rulings, including how the determination of genocide is beneficial to many victims in Cambodia, a reminder about how international legal entities define genocide in the context of this and other human rights atrocities, and a breakdown of the crucial importance of reparations to the Cambodian people.
Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler comments on the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award the 2018 peace prize to relatively unknown contenders for leading efforts “to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.” Wexler considers whether the decision might be “pinkwashing”—a term Wexler derives from “whitewashing” to mean (1) an institution or individual’s deployment and publicity of policies and practices (2) in response to the identification of a #MeToo or sex discrimination related grievance, (3) which does not address the underlying concern of the aggrieved and (4) is intended to establish, maintain, burnish, or restore institutional reputation. Wexler raises and discusses the question how one distinguishes sincere efforts to address a #MeToo problem from pinkwashing.