In this second in a series of columns on the litigation ending in settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems, Illinois Law professor Jennifer K. Robbennolt, University of Houston Law professor Jessica Bregant, and Illinois Law professor Verity Winship comment on the non-apology Fox made at the end of the case. The authors argue that the Fox/Dominion settlement is a stark example of the multiple audiences for an apology and how the incentives and desires of private parties and public audiences may diverge.
Illinois Law professor Jennifer K. Robbennolt, University of Houston Law professor Jessica Bregant, and Illinois Law professor Verity Winship describe the findings of their study of people’s perceptions of legal settlements generally, and what that means about the Fox/Dominion settlement. The authors point out that the lawsuit ended exactly as most lawsuits do—in settlement—and argue that for all the case’s weighty implications, the public reactions to the settlement are exactly what we would expect.
Harvard Law professor emeritus Laurence H. Tribe and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comment on an order last week by Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordering former Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran to answer questions he had declined to answer in January before Special Counsel Jack Smith’s grand jury. Professor Tribe and Mr. Aftergut point out that lawyers are uniquely positioned to either defend democracy against tyranny or facilitate its downfall; Judge Howell’s order reaffirmed the DC district court’s commitment to the rule of law as our shield against tyranny.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on the public censure of Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis for her misrepresentations on Fox News and elsewhere regarding the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election. Mr. Aftergut points out that now, thanks to Jenna Ellis, we have a discipline case on the record against a lawyer whose only misconduct was in misleading the public in the public square.
Former federal prosecutor comments on recent news that courts have required several far-right television networks to issue statements recanting their false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Mr. Aftergut praises these decisions as demonstrating the role of lawyers and courts in upholding truth and provable facts.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut describes the special role that lawyers play in preserving democracy—a role even more important today than it was at the county’s founding. Mr. Aftergut calls lawyers to action particularly in light of the news of a forthcoming memoir by Geoffrey Berman, the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York who resigned rather than carry out former President Trump’s efforts to bring weak cases against political opponents.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman argues that the New York Bar Association should not eliminate Question 26 of the New York Bar Exam, which asks applicants for admission to the state bar whether they have been arrested. Professor Grossman explains why eliminating the question would likely cause more harm than good.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat describes the ethical quandary capital defense lawyers face when they have to, under the Supreme Court’s current methods of execution jurisprudence, suggest an alternative readily available method to execute their clients. Professor Sarat argues that the only way to eliminate this ethical quandary is to end the practice altogether, particularly in light of the current Court’s apparent hostility to arguments of death row inmates.
Dennis Aftergut, a former federal prosecutor, explains how a recent ruling by a federal judge in Santa Ana, California, helps the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack get closer to obtaining emails from former Trump lawyer John Eastman. Mr. Aftergut argues that disclosure of Eastman’s emails would advance the committee’s search for truth, and with it, strengthened hope for preventing another insurrection.
Dean Falvy, a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, offers thoughts on the legal tactics and briefs filed by each side in former President Trump’s second impeachment trial. Mr. Falvy argues that if Trump can survive a second impeachment vote, it will show that he is still operating where he has always believed himself to be: well beyond the reach of the law.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—predicts that because the lawyer discipline process is broken, President Trump’s lawyers will get away with facilitating his anti-democratic misconduct. Professor Sarat notes that Lawyers Defending American Democracy (LDAD) released a letter calling on bar authorities to investigate and punish members of Trump’s post-election legal team, but he points out that while LDAD can shame those members, it still lacks the ability itself to discipline or disbar.
Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and professor Jason Mazzone describe the increasing importance of courts and lawyers in safeguarding and reinforcing the role of factual truths in our democracy. Dean Amar and Professor Mazzone point out that lawyers and judges are steeped in factual investigation and factual determination, and they call upon legal educators (like themselves) to continue instilling in students the commitment to analytical reasoning based in factual evidence, and to absolutely reject the notion that factual truth is just in the mind of the beholder.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on an open letter addressed to the 100,000 professionals working in the U.S. Department of Justice and published by Lawyers Defending Democracy. In the letter, more than 600 members of the bar from across the United States call on their DOJ colleagues to refrain from “participating in political misuse of the DOJ in the elction period ahead.” Sarat argues that the letter rightly recognizes that Attorney General Barr’s blatant partisanship endangers the integrity of the DOJ itself and its role in preserving the rule of law.
Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar explains why it is unconstitutional for state bars to favor in-state law schools when deciding who may sit for the state bar exam while complying with social distancing requirements, based on the Supreme Court’s precedents on the dormant Commerce Clause.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and Schiff Hardin writing coach Julie S. Schrager explain the importance of incorporating “soft skills”—rooted in emotional intelligence and viewing your writing from your reader’s perspective—into legal writing. Amar and Schrager offer four key tips to help legal writers, whether first-year law students or seasoned attorneys, become more effective communicators.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains the difference between preferences and norms and argues that when social norms and personal preferences conflict, the norm must win. Margulies laments that President Donald Trump misunderstands the elemental distinction between social norms and personal preferences and accepts the norm as legitimate only to the extent it coincides with his personal views.
In the wake of the tragedy in Pittsburg, which in some ways mirrors the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies draws upon his experience representing Abu Zubaydah—the first person held in the CIA "enhanced interrogation program"—to provide an answer the question of how one can represent someone so many people hate. Margulies argues that the advocate’s highest calling is to insist upon humanity even when society is most determined to deny it.
Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses a statement by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson calling his company’s decision to hire Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen “a big mistake.” Dorf describes under what circumstances AT&T’s hiring of Cohen would amount to a crime, and under what circumstances his hiring would not only be legal but a corporate obligation. As Dorf explains, the proper classification of the decision requires more information than the public currently has.
Chapman University, Fowler School of Law, professor Ronald D. Rotunda explains in concrete terms what the ABA's recommendation that attorneys "keep abreast" of "the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology" means: change your passwords into passphrases to keep confidential information secure. Rotunda describes how easy it is to hack simple passwords and cautions lawyers that the ramifications of compromised client information can be significant and far-reaching.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers some wisdom he shared during his keynote remarks at the swearing-in ceremony of new lawyers in Springfield, Illinois, describing how lawyers can help build American democracy. Amar comments on the specific duties and responsibilities lawyers swear to uphold, and explains why these duties are critical to the very foundations of our country.