Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf responds to a recent Wall Street Journal “puff piece” on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, arguing that, contrary to the op-ed authors’ assertion, Justice Alito’s purported commitment to textualism is disingenuous and that he finds ways (atextually, if needed) to vote consistently for ideologically conservative outcomes. Professor Dorf refutes Justice Alito’s claim that Congress lacks the authority to impose ethical standards on the Supreme Court, pointing out Congress’s historical role in shaping the Court and the existing ethics regulations that apply to the Justices.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat critiques U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for his close relationships with conservative billionaires and the luxurious gifts and perks he’s received from them without proper disclosure, as recently reported by ProPublica. Drawing parallels to the case of Justice Abe Fortas, who resigned in the 1960s after a series of ethical missteps, Professor Sarat suggests that the current divisive political climate enables and even rewards ethically questionable behavior among leaders, as long as it aligns with tribal loyalties and partisan allegiances.
Cornell professor Joseph Margulies reflects on two recent high-profile legal events: the indictment of Donald Trump for allegedly subverting democracy and the death sentencing of Robert Bowers for the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. Professor Margulies suggests that these cases, viewed by many as a triumph for the rule of law, represent societal attempts to protect integral aspects of American identity, with their punishment seen as purging threats to this identity. However, Professor Margulies argues that the law should not be weaponized to decide who belongs in society, as it usurps an authority that rightfully belongs to the people.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explores the nuanced and multifaceted influences behind the U.S. decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead of Kyoto during World War II. Drawing upon the speculated influence of Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s personal connection to Kyoto and weather conditions affecting bombing success, Professor Griffin emphasizes the complex interplay between personal morality, strategic considerations, and even uncontrollable factors like the weather in shaping historical outcomes.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat reflects on the acceptance speech by Chief Justice John Roberts of the American Law Institute’s Henry Friendly Medal. Professor Sarat argues that the speech demonstrates the Chief Justice’s lack of empathy for litigants whose lives the Court’s decisions affect and a lack of awareness of his own life of privilege.
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.
Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on the text message from Fox News host Tucker Carlson that apparently crossed the line and led to his being fired. Professor Margulies explores the two most common reactions to that text message and explains why one reaction is silly and the other is dangerously naïve.
Cornell professor Joseph Margulies compares the costs of United States military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, with what that same amount of money could accomplish at home. Professor Margulies points out that necessary investments like cleaning up toxic waste, replacing lead pipes and service lines, and fixing “structurally deficient” bridges cost a fraction of what the country has spent (and will spend) on unnecessary military operations worldwide.
Cornell professor Joseph Margulies describes a choice that Jack Teixeira—the 21-year-old former member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard accused of leaking classified documents on Discord servers—now faces: paint himself as a heroic truth-teller martyred by a war-mongering liberal political establishment, or as a chastened young man who made a terrible mistake but who loves his country and would never intentionally do her any harm. Professor Margulies points out this choice leads to the further question whether can society forgive Teixeira, or any wrongdoer, if they insist they have done no moral wrong.
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.
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.