Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the number of bills recently introduced in many red states to curb prosecutorial discretion when it is exercised in ways that do not conform to their tough-on-crime agenda. Professor Sarat argues that prosecutorial discretion is an indispensable component of a society governed by laws, and that these bills violate the separation of powers, threaten to politicize prosecution, and, in so doing, undermine the rule of law.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies points out that the murder of Tyre Nichols challenges the oversimplified conception of authority and race that prevails in this country. Drawing upon the language of historian Robin Kelley, Professor Margulies argues that police violence is the end result of a racialized processnot merely an expression of anti-Black racism by white police officers.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies points out that the Memphis police officers who beat Tyre Nichols to death were doing exactly what the SCORPION unit of the department was supposed to do. Professor Margulies argues that until we collectively quash the belief that “we” are threatened until “they” are brought to heel, society will futilely pursue public safety while disregarding public suffering.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies observes that the Memphis Police Department’s Policies and Procedures document is missing an entire section called “Response to Resistance,” which sets the rules governing the use of force by a Memphis officer, including deadly force. Professor Margulies points out that adopting or amending rules is not enough to solve the problem that led to the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers; rather we police culture must change. Indeed, Margulies argues, the SCORPION unit was doing exactly what Memphis leaders inside and outside the Department wanted it to do.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the videos released by the City of Memphis documenting the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers. Professor Margulies points out that the atrocious conduct captured on video reflects a police culture that encourages brutality and indifference, arguing that if the Memphis Police Department can’t change the culture they’ve created, their officers don’t deserve the badge.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on the House Judiciary Committee minority members’ staff report in which Republican members of the committee are seeking to undermine the FBI by portraying it as partisan and dishonest. Mr. Aftergut points out that the report disregards facts in an attempt—consistent with other Republican efforts—to confuse the public about who is telling the truth so that ordinary people busy with their lives disengage and give up trying to figure out the facts. He argues that if Republicans achieve a majority in Tuesday’s midterm election, they will turn America’s premier law enforcement agency into a McCarthy-esque inquisitorial tool in their anticipated Republican presidential administration.
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.”
NYU Law professor Samuel Estreicher and rising 3L Zachary G. Garrett propose two measures to improve the safety of public transportation in New York City. Specifically, Professor Estreicher and Mr. Garrett suggest that (1) stationing at least one police officer at each turnstile (or set of turnstiles), around the clock, and (2) installing weapons screeners at every subway station would reduce violence and crime.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut points out that Donald Trump’s attempt to avoid being held in contempt of New York court for failing to respond to a document subpoena closely tracks an approach described by Nixon White House aide John Ehrlichman during the Watergate scandal. Mr. Aftergut predicts that New York Attorney General Letitia James is unlikely to fall for that tactic and is sure to go after Trump’s “limited, modified hang-out” to try to avoid accountability and the hand of justice.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut argues that the January 6 House Select Committee’s new filing provides further support for the indictment of former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. Mr. Aftergut calls upon Attorney General Merrick Garland to fulfill his vow to uphold the Constitution by enforcing compliance with lawful congressional subpoenas.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut discusses three things that former President Donald Trump said that potentially demonstrate evidence of a guilty mind trying to cover up his actions. Mr. Aftergut points out that anyone who is potentially the target of an investigation—as Trump is—should resist the impulse to speak out.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut opines that former Attorney General William Barr’s forthcoming memoir glosses over Barr’s substantial role in Donald Trump’s effort to undermine democracy. Mr. Aftergut argues that Barr damaged the Justice Department’s reputation for integrity, and no memoir can make up for that.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on the recent news that Mazars—Donald Trump’s long-time New York accounting firm—disclaimed the veracity of Trump’s financial statements. Mr. Aftergut explains that this development is particularly significant because it will likely threaten Trump’s ability to stay financially afloat, particularly amid other ongoing investigations into his conduct.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on recent revelations about how the Department of Justice is handling cases arising from the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Mr. Aftergut observes that the DOJ shows every intention of handling those cases aggressively.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Caniglia v. Strom, holding that police may not enter a private home to perform a “community caretaking” function without having a search warrant. Professor Colb suggests that by recognizing limits on the authority of law enforcement officers to enter a home without a warrant in these circumstances, the Court may be implicitly adopting the message of “defunding the police” by reallocating a non-police function to better-suited responders, such as social workers or mental health experts.
Igor De Lazari, a Brazilian legal scholar, Antonio Sepulveda, Professor of Law at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) and at the Fluminense Federal University, and Ana Beatriz a legal assistant at the Public Ministry Office of the State of Santa Catarina and Criminal Procedure Law Specialist, comment on the police use of lethal force in Rio de Janeiro. The authors suggest several institutional and social policy changes that would begin to address the disproportionate use of lethal force in Rio and restore public faith in its public security policy
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—explains why the police murder of George Floyd was the worst moment of 2020 in American law. Professor Sarat proposes that we remember the event and that date—May 25—as “infamous,” a word reserved for rare and atrocious events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in an attempt to capture the brutality and inhumanity of the act.
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.
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.
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