Analysis and Commentary on Philosophy and Ethics

Trouble in Paradise? The Paradise Papers and the Ethics of Lawful Tax Avoidance

University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the recent release of records known as the Paradise Papers, which reveal the identities of thousands of individuals and corporations using offshore jurisdictions as a tax avoidance strategy. Ramasastry argues that while such actions may in many cases be legal, they are also unethical. She points out that if we focus on the harm of tax avoidance to society, rather than how it is legally defined, then we can see that it contributes to growing inequality and increases tax burdens on resident taxpayers who cannot change their citizenship or move their money.

Mass Murder and the Mundane

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies observes that the stock market—which tends to disregard even unusual events that within a range of predictability—reflected no surprise at the extraordinary carnage of three mass murders over a period of five weeks. Margulies points out that US stock markets saw steady growth despite Stephen Paddock shooting and killing nearly 60 people and wounding over 500 more in Las Vegas; Sayfullo Saipov killing eight people and seriously injuring over ten others in Manhattan; and Devin Patrick Kelly killing 26 people and injuring 20 more in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Does this truly mean that human destruction on a scale like this has no impact on national life?

Considering a New York Bill to Legalize Compensated Surrogacy

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers some pros and cons of legalizing and enforcing gestational surrogacy agreements, as the New York State legislature is currently considering doing. Colb points out that legalizing these agreements would help clean up the patchwork of different surrogacy laws in different states (and thus make the outcome of conflicts more predictable), but she also notes that government endorsement of surrogacy may perpetuate or ignore related issues of equality and born children seeking adoption.

Bitcoin and the Legal Ethics of Lawyers

Chapman University, Fowler School of Law, professor Ronald D. Rotunda comments on a recent opinion by the Nebraska bar concluding that lawyers may receive digital currencies such as bitcoin for their services, but only subject to certain conditions. Rotunda provides a brief explanation of bitcoin and explains why the opinion makes no sense. Rotunda calls upon lawyers and state bars to consider the impact of new technology on lawyers, but not to impose special rules on novel tools that are simply a new way of engaging in a traditional endeavor.

Ideal Victims and the Damage of a Damage Free Victory

Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler considers the how the public perceives victims of physical abuse who renounce the monetary rewards to which they are legally entitled. Wexler points to several high-profile cases in which the victim donated or did not seek monetary damages, and critiques the media for lauding the economic selflessness of these female assault victims in a way that obscures the important role of compensatory and punitive damages, particularly for victims who rely on those damages to seek to become whole.

Should the Law Permit Sexual Contact Between Police and Suspects?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the law in at least three states that permits police officers to have sexual contact with people they suspect of prostitution. Colb explains the rationale behind these laws and argues that under three prevailing philosophical approaches to the law—libertarian, feminist, and traditional morality-based—such contact should not be permissible.

Can Robots Practice Law?

Chapman University, Fowler School of Law, professor Ronald D. Rotunda comments on the laws regulating the practice of law, and specifically, defining (or not defining) what the practice of law means. Rotunda argues that despite (or because of) the difficulty of defining the practice of law, computers and technology are advancing the practice of law and the work of lawyers.

It’s an Either-Or Question: Trump or Decency

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, minces no words in criticizing President Trump’s taking sides with neo-Nazis and supporters of the KKK. Hamilton calls upon everyone to make known where they stand—either with Trump in betraying fundamental American values, or on the side of decency.

Indicting the President: President Clinton’s Justice Department Says No

Chapman University Fowler School of Law professor Ronald D. Rotunda explains his legal conclusion in the opinion letter he authored for Ken Star regarding the ability of a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president. Rotunda points out that the key difference between then and now is the presence of a special prosecutor statute protecting independent counsel from removal.

What the Charlie Gard Controversy Teaches Us About Parental Rights

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the controversy over Charlie Gard, an infant in England who was born with a rare genetic condition that is typically fatal in infancy or early childhood. Colb describes the legal journey of Charlie Gard and his parents and proposes ways in which the laws in the United Kingdom and the United States might inform each other.

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.

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