Analysis and Commentary on Law Enforcement
Jim Jordan Puts the FBI’s Future on the Ballot

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.

Of Mugshots and Burning Cells

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.”

Transportation Security for New York City Straphangers

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.

NY AG Tish James Won’t Be Fooled by Donald Trump’s Dodgy Affidavit to Escape His New York Court Contempt

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.

The January 6 House Select Committee’s New Filing Shows Us Why Attorney General Garland Should Indict Mark Meadows

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.

Trump Gives An Interview That Will Have Investigators Licking Their Chops

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.

Bill Barr’s New Book: More Reputation Make-over Than Truth

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.

Mazars’ Resignation Shows Investigators Squeezing Trump’s Pocketbook Today, Not Just His Liberty Tomorrow

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.

The DOJ Gets Aggressive in January 6 Prosecutions. Are Cases About the Pre-January 6 Coup Plot Next?

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.

The U.S. Supreme Court Takes a Step toward Defunding the Police

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.

Police Use of Lethal Force in Rio de Janeiro: Challenges and Perspectives

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

American Law’s Worst Moment—2020

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.

“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.

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

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 Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... 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