Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies describes the crucial difference between a world where we ask, “What happened?” and one where we ask, “Who is to blame?” Professor Margulies explains that the first question seeks to identify the many factors that cause something bad to happen, with the goal of preventing that bad thing from happening again; in contrast, the second seeks only to punish.
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.”
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the controversy over whether death-row inmates should be permitted to donate their organs before or after their executions. Professor Sarat argues that to prohibit inmates from donating their organs is a further mark of their subjugation and that for many, organ donation is a way of giving life even as the state takes theirs.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies responds to an angry reader’s email response to his previous column, observing that anger can be a productive and healthy emotion but can also be all-consuming and destructive. Professor Margulies suggests that arguing over whose anger is righteous and whose is not is not productive; instead, we need something that strides above the arguments, a set of ideals against which we can measure whether a particular species of anger is one that society should honor and encourage.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies describes the tribal blame machine, which both sides use to demonize the “other” side and drive us apart. Professor Margulies argues that a mature democracy must reject the tribal blame machine and instead embrace a fair, sober, even-handed appraisal of the facts, free from hyperbole and pot-banging.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies observes that while the events of January 6, 2021, were “horrific,” “criminal,” and “anti-democratic,” he suggests that they were never a true threat to democracy. Professor Margulies points out that polling may be misleading and that overblown partisan rhetoric, by either side, does not equip us to confront true challenges to democracy when they do arise
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the uniquely problematic conduct of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia (Ginni).
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains why social media is, by design, inimical to the idea of a forgiving society. He points out that, in general, we appreciate that a person makes choices not in a vacuum, but in the context of a combination of individual and societal factors, but social media eliminates this nuance and forces us to ignore what we ordinarily accept as the lesson of universal experience.
In light of the recently leaked draft of a majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that would overrule Roe v. Wade, Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the Mississippi law at issue, which lacks an exception for instances of rape incest. Professor Colb suggests that Justice Alito has been waiting to overrule Roe at least since the Supreme Court reversed his decision as an appeals court judge in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, thereby giving voice to his Catholic belief that a zygote could reasonably be characterized as an “unborn child.”
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies points out that the language we use—particularly the language we use to describe and talk with incarcerated persons—is unduly limiting and focused on a singular event to the exclusion of broader context. Professor Margulies proposes that rather than asking “What did you do?” we should ask “What happened?”—which is a wider question that wonders, with curiosity and compassion, what factors, perhaps over months, years, or even generations, brought a human being to this place.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies describes a society in which no transgression is so severe that society dissolves the bonds that connect all of humanity by its very nature. Professor Margulies points out that we live in an age when demonization is a first impulse rather than a last resort, and the inclination to treat a fellow human being as irredeemably unworthy of membership is, for many people, irresistibly seductive.
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.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes the ambivalence and fear many of us feel toward the “in between”—the space between where we are today and where we imagine we could be. Professor Margulies points out that if we allow it, the fear of the in between will always keep us from the world we deserve, so we must find the courage to push past the fear.
In response to the December 16 announcement that, Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains the significance of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s December 16 announcement that it is permanently allowing doctors to administer medical abortions by telemedicine and through the mail. Professor Colb describes why the change is likely to make terminating a pregnancy more accessible and affordable and less dangerous, and she argues that medical abortion also challenges one ethical argument some anti-abortion advocates have raised.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes how he arrived at his moral philosophy, summed up as “there is no them, there is only us.” Professor Margulies explains that it comes in part from an understanding that all of humanity is imprisoned by our individual autobiographies—the profound choices that define our existence, like how we respond to loss, shame, rage, and pain.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to some of the consensus views among pro-life advocates that reflect how they understand pregnancy. Professor Colb debunks the illogical argument that a zygote is a person and explains why the view of pregnancy as merely the placement of a zygote “somewhere” (i.e., inside a woman) to grow into a person is simplistic and misogynistic.
UF Levin College of Law professor Neil H. Buchanan considers whether the current COVID-19 pandemic changes the way we think about the ongoing crises of climate catastrophe and the escalating threats to the rule of law. Perhaps counterintuitively, Professor Buchanan concludes that neither this pandemic nor even the threat of future pandemics changes how we should think about our obligations to future generations because nothing about it requires our focus to the exclusion of those two existing threats.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf critiques the suggestion that the Treasury might instruct the Mint to create high-value platinum coins to pay federal obligations and avert a debt ceiling crisis. Professor Dorf argues that such action risks eroding public confidence in the very idea that money has value. He recognizes that in a democracy, government should generally trust the People with the truth but says there is sometimes a need to promote a “noble lie” for the good of society.
Amherst College professor Austin Sarat responds to a federal appellate court decision upholding the conviction and death sentence of Dylann Roof for the 2015 murders of nine members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, during a meeting of a Bible-study group. Professor Sarat argues that the death penalty is inappropriate even for one of this nation’s most reviled mass murderers because capital punishment has no place in a democratic society.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why listening to people is a better way to persuade them to change their position on an issue than calling them out for inconsistency. Professor Colb navigates a hypothetical conversation to demonstrate how thoughtful attention and humility can be more convincing than arguing or attacking.