Analysis and Commentary on Law Enforcement
“Remain Humble and Compassionate—And Have a Plan to Kill Everyone You Meet”

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies argues that to fix policing, we must change police culture and norms, starting with ending the warrior model of policing. Margulies describes what this model means and explains why it is such a substantial obstacle to productive relationships between the police and the communities they serve.

Memorializing Miscarriages of Justice

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—describes the value of writing to memorialize miscarriages of justices and lauds federal district judge Carlton W. Reeves for doing so in a recent opinion. Sarat points out that Judge Reeves faithfully applied the doctrine of qualified immunity in the case before him while also powerfully noting in his opinion how dangerous that the police officer’s unjust stop detainment was for that Black motorist.

Lessons of the Cooper Affair

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the recent incident in which Amy Cooper, a young white woman, called the police on Christian Cooper, an African American man who was birdwatching in Central Park. Margulies argues that the repercussions of Ms. Cooper’s actions—her suffering public ridicule and losing the valuable commodity of anonymity—achieve both the consequentialist and retributivist purposes of our penal system, so for the state to prosecute her as well would serve only to humiliate and demonize her

A Modest Proposal: A Heartbeat Bill for Those Who Don’t Wear Masks

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton draws upon a strategy used by anti-abortion advocates in suggesting a way to encourage (or coerce) more people into wearing masks to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Hamilton proposes requiring persons who opt not to wear a mask in public (1) to watch, on a large screen, an adult's beating heart for 30 seconds, and (2) to be read a statement about how their decision unreasonably endangers others.

The One Thing a Cop Can Do

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explores the idea of defunding the police, pointing out that we must first ask what tasks can only be performed by the police, and then ask the corollary question what tasks should the police do. Margulies uses several examples to illustrate the point that many tasks that we reflexively assign to the police can be better handled by others, and by assigning these tasks to others, we can effectively shrink the role of police in our society.

The Unnecessary Protection of Qualified Immunity

UCLA law professor Joanna C. Schwartz and South Carolina law professor Seth W. Stoughton address some of the arguments commonly asserted to support qualified immunity, the doctrine that shields police officers from civil liability for constitutional violations. Schwartz and Stoughton argue that eliminating qualified immunity should not affect police decision-making and that existing Supreme Court doctrine gives police officers plenty of leeway to make mistakes without violating the Constitution. Because qualified immunity applies only to unreasonable actions by police officers, eliminating or substantially restricting it should not a chilling effect on police officers’ ability or willingness to respond to critical incidents.

Hard Cases

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies uses the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta by police to explain some lessons for reform we might learn. Margulies calls upon us to use this case to reexamine the circumstances that should result in a custodial arrest and to shrink the function of police so as to use them only in the very few situations that truly require them.

Our Demons

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.

A Welcome Turn to Violence

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes several refreshing perspectives in the area of criminal justice reform that tackle the crucial and difficult issue of violent crime. By way of background, Margulies explains the simplistic and erroneous idea that drives the enormous (and enormously expensive) carceral state and explains the importance of recognizing humanity in order to begin to dismantle it.

What Does #BelieveWomen Mean?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains what #BelieveWomen means—that society should stop being presumptively skeptical of women who report sexual misconduct—as well as what the movement does not mean. Colb points out that to believe women does not mean to criminally convict the accused and bypass constitutional safeguards; rather, it means to treat their testimony the same as society and the law treat all other testimony—as presumptively credible. Colb argues that if we make systemic changes to the way we treat women reporting sexual misconduct, starting with initial contact with the police, these changes could translate into more widespread reforms in the courtroom and prosecution of sexual offenders.

How a School Bus With No Wheels Taught Me to See Past Silos

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes inspiring story of the "Walking School Bus" in Olneyville, the low-income, predominately Latino neighborhood on the west side of Providence, Rhode Island. The Walking School Bus is a small group of parents who walk through a set route on a specified timetable, escorting children through dangerous areas to safely arrive at their respective schools. Margulies points out that this example is but one example of the importance of recognizing the intersection public health, crime, criminal justice, and policing-all critical and interrelated components of building stronger and safer communities.

The Seduction of Piety

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies continues his discussion of what he calls "pious stories" that come up in discussions of the criminal justice system, explaining why the media and policy-makers continue to repeat these stories despite their being egregiously incorrect or even dangerously incomplete. Margulies points to three characteristics common to all three of these stories: they reduce complex social processes into over-simplified parables about heroes and villains, they engender racial colonialism, and they are perpetuated by people deeply committed to criminal justice reform.

Two (But Only Two) Jeers for Enforcing the Federal Marijuana Law in Legalized States

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent announcement by Attorney General Sessions that the Trump Department of Justice was rescinding an Obama administration policy toward state-legal marijuana. Dorf argues that the policy shift breaks promises by then-candidate Trump and then-Senator Sessions, but that objections to the new policy on federalism grounds are largely misguided.

My Resolution for 2018: Less Piety, More Complexity

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes three stories among those who study the criminal justice system that are pejoratively described as “pious.” Margulies explains what it means to be a “pious story,” why such stories exist (because simple narratives are the easiest to translate into policy), and calls upon himself and others on both the Right and Left to abandon “pious” stories and tell whole truths instead.

Body Worn Cameras: The Dog That Won’t Bark

Cornell University law professor Joe Margulies comments on the findings of a recent study of police body cameras that body-worn cameras made no statistically significant difference in how police go about their jobs. Margulies points out that the story is not in the absence of a difference, but in people’s surprise to the absence of a difference. Indeed, it is the routine, not the anomalous, that requires reform.

Changing Places by Changing Ourselves

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes the transformation of Olneyville, a low-income neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, as the result of comprehensive place-based solutions to crime and disorder. Margulies points out that the most difficult challenge to place-based strategies is politics and that before we can expect to meaningfully change places for the better, we must come to certain fundamental understandings of ourselves and our society.

Should the Law Permit Sexual Contact Between Police and Suspects?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the law in at least three states that permits police officers to have sexual contact with people they suspect of prostitution. Colb explains the rationale behind these laws and argues that under three prevailing philosophical approaches to the law—libertarian, feminist, and traditional morality-based—such contact should not be permissible.

Don’t Shred the Evidence

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments critically on the decision by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to destroy certain records regarding detainees held in ICE custody. Margulies argues that the information ICE seeks to destroy can be helpful in assessing the conditions, staffing, supervision, and practices in various facilities, for the purpose of improving the worst ones and learning from the ones with the best practices.

Phillips

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes the remarkable transformation of Phillips, a community in Minneapolis, from “Murderapolis” to a thriving, vibrant, safe community. Margulies uses this example to point out that when police and communities they serve work together effectively, truly positive change can emerge.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... 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

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Fels Institute of Government Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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