Analysis and Commentary on Philosophy and Ethics

When Should Encouraging Suicide Be a Crime?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent tragic incident in which a young man committed suicide under the encouragement via text message by his girlfriend. Colb considers whether her conviction by a Massachusetts judge of involuntary manslaughter was appropriate and just, and discusses some of the issues that her conviction raises, including free speech, the right to die, and traditional conceptions of causation and responsibility.

The Antidote to Trump: Humility, Character, and Integrity, a.k.a., Judge Edward R. Becker

Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, extols the late Judge Edward Becker as exemplifying the traits of integrity, intelligence, and goodness—traits Hamilton argues that President Trump lacks. Hamilton uses Judge Becker’s example to illustrate the point that not all those in power seek to abuse it.

Beveridge’s Life of Marshall and its Relevance Today

Chapman University Fowler School of Law professor Ronald D. Rotunda comments on Albert Jeremiah Beveridge’s historic biography of John Marshall and notes that both Beveridge and Marshall are revered in spite of their being wrong (in hindsight) about certain moral truths. Rotunda points out that every generation thinks itself smarter and more moral than the previous generation, so if we do not practice humility about the past, we risk being blindsided by different prejudices today.

An Ethical Analysis of the American Health Care Act

Charles E. Binkley, MD, FACS, co-chair of the Ethics Committee at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, and attorney David Kemp conduct an ethical analysis of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, using the principles of impartiality and justice. Within this framework, Binkley and Kemp identify three values around which health care coverage should be prioritized, and they conclude that the AHCA fails to meet the ethical standards for government-supported health care.

An Index Fund is the Next Best Thing to a Blind Trust

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that for extremely wealthy government officials, in order to avoid conflicts of interests based on their financial holdings, could turn to a broad-based diversified portfolio, rather than having to utilize a blind trust. Dorf explains why this particular solution works for extremely wealthy individuals and why President-elect Donald Trump and much of his cabinet should take heed.

When is Self-Abortion Murder? Lessons of a Tragedy

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent situation in which a Tennessee woman was charged with attempted murder for trying unsuccessfully to terminate her pregnancy with a coat hanger at 24 weeks. Colb explains why attempted murder doesn’t seem to be an appropriate charge in this situation, and she explains the role that policies put forth abortion opponents might have played in forcing the woman to attempt an abortion in this manner.

Trump’s Business Conflicts: Total Divestiture Is His Only Answer

John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, explains why President-elect Donald Trump must divest himself from ownership in any property or entity that his actions or decisions as president might benefit. Dean draws upon his experience in the Nixon White House to argue that anything less than complete divestiture will not suffice; such is the price of public service.

Why—and How—President-Elect Trump’s Conflicts of Interest Matter

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why President-elect Donald Trump’s conflicts of interests are problematic for the country. Dorf argues that the primary risk is that a Trump administration will pursue policies that further Trump’s business interests at the expense of the national interest. Dorf also points out two other risks posed by Trump’s conflicts of interest: the possibility of unjust enrichment and the cultural shift that corruption at the top could catalyze.

Liberal Activism in the Age of Trump

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf shares some of the lessons he has learned as a vegan animal rights advocate, and explains how they apply to other policy areas. In particular, Dorf argues that in order to build a world in which presidential candidates do not pander to humanity’s basest otherizing instincts, we should aim to persuade our fellow humans of our point of view, not merely to organize to outvote them.

Ensuring Consent with Sexual Advance Directives

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the idea of a sexual advance directive—a proposed legal device that could provide consent or designate an agent to provide consent in advance of an anticipated persistent period of legal incompetence. Colb explains how a sexual advance directive purports to work, describes some limitations of it, and proposes an alternative solution that addresses those limitations.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Versus Colin Kaepernick

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent public criticism (which she has since retracted) of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his protesting against police brutality and racial oppression by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. Dorf distinguishes criticism ex cathedra from criticism given while off the bench and concludes that while Justice Ginsburg was within her right to speak her mind, she was also correct to subsequently take back her comments.

Should Self-Driving Cars Be Mandatory?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the proposed policy guidelines the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released that relate to the logistics of self-driving cars. In this column, Dorf looks ahead to a time when the majority of vehicles on the road will be self-driving and considers the potential consequences of regulating the few manual cars that will remain. While there is an argument to be made that people's choices and personal freedom should outweigh government interference, Dorf explains that the benefits to the larger population's welfare that self-driving cars may one day offer is likely to win out over time.

How Zika May Affect Our Thinking About Abortion

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers whether the termination of Zika pregnancies might affect our thinking about abortion. Specifically, Colb asks (1) whether it is right to end a pregnancy because the baby would be severely disabled if brought to term, and (2) whether it is right at all to take the life of a fetus late in pregnancy, given that birth defects caused by Zika are not detectable by ultrasound until late in pregnancy.

Is Taking Blood from a Dog a “Search” of the Dog’s Owner?

In light of a recent decision by the Oregon Supreme Court, Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers whether taking blood from a dog constitutes a search of the dog’s owner for Fourth Amendment purposes. Colb identifies good and bad features of the court’s opinion and expresses what, in her view, would have been the ideal resolution of the case.

Trump’s Law and Order Versus the Rule of Law

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the difference between “law and order,” a term Donald Trump uses to describe his approach to governance, and “rule of law,” a principle that those in positions of authority exercise their power even handedly and consistently, within a framework of public norms. As Dorf explains, Trump’s law-and-order message, taken in conjunction with his observed business practices, is that of an authoritarian ruler—one who imposes rules on others yet sees himself above and unconstrained by law.

Should We Lift the Stigma on “Virtuous Pedophiles”?

Inspired by a Dan Savage podcast on the topic, Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb considers both the concept of “virtuous pedophiles” and some of its potential implications. Colb explains what this term means and draws several comparisons to other individuals who may be oriented toward a certain action that is either illegal or prohibited to them, ultimately expressing ambivalence toward the notion of the virtuous pedophile.

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 Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... 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 of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more