Analysis and Commentary on Philosophy and Ethics

Preferences, Norms, and a President Who Can’t Tell the Difference

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.

Especially After Pittsburgh

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.

Girls…Will Not…Replace Us

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb argues that some people's belief in the trivial nature of sexual assault may go hand in hand with the belief that it never happened. Colb examines the relationship between denial and devaluation in other contexts, as well as in the context of gender oppression, and finds consistency in the thinking of people who hate or otherwise persecute others.

A Picnic, A Jew, and the Surrender of Critical Judgment

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb observes that we as a society have become extremely credulous for an era of cynicism and that we as individuals have divested ourselves of critical judgment, preferring instead to defer to people who share our political ideology or qualify for special status for some other reason. Colb considers what might be driving this deference and how we can combat it. She points out that constructive disagreement is healthy and that “viewpoints are not violence, disagreement is not hatred, and no one has a patent on the truth.”

Transitional Justice Lessons Regarding Complex Victims for #MeToo

Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler comments on the recent allegations that Asia Argento—an alleged victim of Harvey Weinstein and vocal #MeToo advocate—committed statutory rape against then-17-year-old Jimmy Bennett. Wexler argues that if the allegations are true and Argento is what is known as a “complex victim,” society should judge Argento neither more harshly, by virtue of the female perpetrator’s violation of traditional gender roles, nor less harshly, simply because she is also a victim, than other complex victims.

A Law in Austria That Would Have Forced Jews and Muslims to Register for Meat

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains the controversy over a proposed (but failed) law in Austria that would have regulated the consumption of Kosher and Halal meat in Lower Austria, one of nine states in that country. Colb points out that the law could not have achieved its purported purpose, to promote the welfare of animals, because it would have permitted animals to be slaughtered at all. Rather, it would have required that religious Jews and Muslims register with the government—just as they were required to do under Nazi rule. Colb also observes that while the law invidiously targeted religious Jews and Muslims, no one seemed to consider that the intended targets could avoid the law altogether by becoming vegans.

ABA Guidance on Judicial Internet Research: Ethics, Due Process, and the Murky Law of Judicial Notice

Justia editor and attorney Sarah Andropoulos comments on an advisory opinion issued last year by the American Bar Association on the propriety of judges conducting internet research on issues raised by cases pending before them. Andropoulos points out that while the advisory opinion does provide guidance as to when such research is permissible, it is rooted in the nebulous concept of judicial notice, and thus leaves many questions unanswered.

The Irish Pro-Choice Vote and Empathy

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the outcome of a recent vote in Ireland repealing that country’s ban on nearly all abortions and explains why empathy for opposing perspectives is important on abortion and other issues, such as animal rights. An ethical vegan, Colb shares her own experience of learning to be empathic when people make untenable arguments in favor of violence toward nonhuman animals.

AT&T’s Hiring of Michael Cohen Was a “Big Mistake,” But Was It More?

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.

The Good of the Country, or the Good of the Agency? Some Final Reflections on Gina Haspel

Cornell University law professor Joe Margulies comments on the confirmation hearing of Gina Haspel for director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Margulies initially expressed reservations about Haspel, but he explains her strengths and weaknesses and draws the important distinction between someone who is good for the Agency and someone who is good for the country.

Appeals Court Rejects PETA’s “Monkey Selfie” Case

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent Ninth Circuit decision rejecting an effort by PETA to bring a copyright lawsuit on behalf of Naruto, a crested macaque. Dorf points out that while the result in that case is unsurprising, the court’s reasoning raises important questions about the role of lawsuits and law more generally in furthering the interests of nonhuman animals.

Pay for Slay?

Illinois Law professor Lesley Wexler discusses the decision by Hamas to pay funds to those wounded and to the families of those killed by Israeli military forces and considers whether such payments ought to be condemned as “pay for slay” disbursements. Wexler concludes that due to the unconditional nature of the offer, at least some payments made by Hamas might be appropriate because they are not conditioned on affiliation with or motivation by Hamas’s military wing.

The San Francisco Fur Ban

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb analyzes some of the assumptions implicit in a fur ban, as San Francisco recently implemented, including the view that fur is a luxury while leather is a necessity and the view that wild animals have a right to live while farm animals do not. Colb explains why these distinctions are nonsensical and calls upon proponents of the fur ban to let people know that there is plenty of vegan food in San Francisco and elsewhere, and that no one needs to spend another moment participating in cruelty to animals.

Wait … Was the Sheriff of Nottingham Somehow the Good Guy?

George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why regressive taxes make Republicans “reverse Robin Hoods” by focusing on the core disagreement between those Republicans and everyone else about the ethics of taxation. Buchanan points out that the Republicans’ argument boils down to the tautology that rich people deserve what they have because they have it.

United Airlines and the Milgram Experiment

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent incident involving a French bulldog puppy dying in-flight when the flight attendant allegedly insisted that the carrier containing the dog be put in the overhead bin. Colb provides one possible explanation for the incident in terms of human behavior as observed in the famous Milgram experiment, in which subjects obeyed directions from an authority figure to administer increasingly strong electric shocks to another person despite experiencing moral distress at doing so.

R.I.P. Ron Rotunda—A Man Responsible for Watergate’s Most Lasting Positive Impact

Former White House counsel John W. Dean describes the incredible legacy of fellow Verdict columnist, Professor Ronald D. Rotunda, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this week. Dean explains how he came to know Rotunda—through the Watergate hearings—and Rotunda’s critical role in developing the modern-day ethics rules that govern lawyers (“post-Watergate morality”). A prolific writer, Rotunda is perhaps best known for co-authoring the revered Legal Ethics: The Lawyer’s Deskbook on Professional Responsibility, as well as a highly regarded treatise on constitutional law.

Are Animal Rights and Human Rights in Tension?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers four ways in which human rights successes might seem to impede the progress of animal rights (and vice versa) and explains why none of these four ways stands up to critical analysis. Colb concludes that a commitment to human rights is perfectly consistent with an embrace of animal rights and that rather than being in conflict, to support one without the other is incoherent.

Lawyers, Passwords, and the Obligation to Keep Clients’ Secrets

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.

#MeToo, Time’s Up, and Restorative Justice

Illinois Law professor Lesley Wexler comments on the 2018 Golden Globes acceptance speech by Laura Dern calling for restorative justice in the context of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. Wexler analyzes the possible meaning of this somewhat ambiguous call to action, explaining that it could mean the restoration and reintegration of women who have suffered employment setbacks at the hands of their harassers and assaulters, and pointing out that it could also carry the more traditional notion of restorative justice, which includes the wrongdoers and the community as a whole to engage in "apologies, restitution, and acknowledgments of harm and injury."

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 the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in con... 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 the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavi... 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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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