Analysis and Commentary on Philosophy and Ethics
The Pro-Life Story of How Babies Are Made

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.

Three Threats to Future Generations: Should COVID-19 Change Our Thinking About Climate Disaster or the End of Democracy?

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.

Money, Law, and Other Noble Lies

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.

Some Think Dylann Roof Deserves to Die, But Executing Him Lets Hatred Carry the Day

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.

How To Lose An Argument (or Arrogance for Dummies)

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.

To Protect Independence of Inspectors General, Make Them Part of Congress

Guest columnist and former U.S. Congressman Brad Miller comments on recent reports that the Trump administration hindered and delayed investigations by inspectors general. Mr. Miller argues that to ensure that the inspectors general be able to do their job of preventing abuse of power, corruption, and incompetence, they should be made part of the Legislative Branch, rather than the Executive Branch.

How We Resist Positive Change

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some ways in which we resist positive change; specifically, she describes her initial hesitation to becoming an ethical vegan and the rationalizations we use to justify resisting positive change. Professor Colb argues that animals are different from inanimate objects, and we must recognize that when anyone suffers, anyone regardless of species, we have an evil that rightly commands our attention and action.

The Physician’s Conundrum: Assigning Moral Responsibility for Medical Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Charles E. Binkley, director of bioethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, describes some critical ethical issues raised by the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) systems for clinical decision support in medicine. Dr. Binkley calls for resolution of these issues before these emerging technologies are widely implemented.

Transitional Justice and Inauguration Poems

Illinois law professor Lesley M. Wexler describes how Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb and Jericho Brown’s Inaugural,’ an Original Poem—as two inaugural poems—fit within the call of transitional justice. Professor Wexler explains how, read together, the two poems provide a roadmap of the transitional justice terrain the government may choose to tread.

Apology as Accountability in Transitional Justice

Illinois law professor Lesley M. Wexler discusses the possibility of and criteria for amend making, amid calls for national unity and moving forward after the violence at the Capitol on January 6. Professor Wexler focuses on Oklahoma Senator James Lankford’s recent apology after his call for an electoral commission, applauding Senator Lankford for his willingness to apologize but pointing out that these actions alone do not undertake much of the hard work demanded by restorative and transitional justice.

American Law’s Worst Moment—2020

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—explains why the police murder of George Floyd was the worst moment of 2020 in American law. Professor Sarat proposes that we remember the event and that date—May 25—as “infamous,” a word reserved for rare and atrocious events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in an attempt to capture the brutality and inhumanity of the act.

Pardonne-Moi

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the assumptions inherent in the executive pardon power and explains why the purpose of the presidential pardon forecloses the possibility of a self-pardon. Colb argues that the only person who would dare to try to grant a self-pardon—one who lacks empathy—is the very one who should not be exercising the pardon power at all.

Trump’s Lawyers Will Get Away with Facilitating His Anti-Democratic Antics and They Know It

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—predicts that because the lawyer discipline process is broken, President Trump’s lawyers will get away with facilitating his anti-democratic misconduct. Professor Sarat notes that Lawyers Defending American Democracy (LDAD) released a letter calling on bar authorities to investigate and punish members of Trump’s post-election legal team, but he points out that while LDAD can shame those members, it still lacks the ability itself to discipline or disbar.

Answering My Hate Mail

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes a recent piece of hate mail he received from someone who apparently saw him quoted in an Associated Press article about what a Biden administration might mean for the 40 remaining prisoners in Guantanamo. Professor Margulies explains that he can forgive the writer because he knows the writer’s rant most likely comes from a place of psychological and cultural insecurity, but at the same time he also holds the writer accountable for his behavior.

Pope Francis’s Statement Endorsing Civil Protections for Same-Sex Couples Undermines the Moral Legitimacy and Legal Arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

David S. Kemp, a professor at Berkeley Law, and Charles E. Binkley, MD, the director of bioethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, consider the implications of Pope Francis’s recently revealed statement endorsing same-sex civil unions as they pertain to a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Kemp and Binkley argue that the Pope’s statement undermines the moral legitimacy of the Catholic organization’s position and casts a shadow on the premise of its legal arguments.

Can We Forgive the President?

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies wonders whether we can—and specifically whether he can—forgive President Trump for all of the bad things he has done. Margulies reflects upon his career of representing those people many regard as monsters and concludes that he cannot and will not join in demonizing President or anyone else. Margulies points out that there are no monsters; we create monsters so we can demonize others as different from “us.”

Should Department of Justice Lawyers Defy William Barr?

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on an open letter addressed to the 100,000 professionals working in the U.S. Department of Justice and published by Lawyers Defending Democracy. In the letter, more than 600 members of the bar from across the United States call on their DOJ colleagues to refrain from “participating in political misuse of the DOJ in the elction period ahead.” Sarat argues that the letter rightly recognizes that Attorney General Barr’s blatant partisanship endangers the integrity of the DOJ itself and its role in preserving the rule of law.

William Barr Uses Victims and Their Families to Prop Up America’s Failing Death Penalty System

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—argues that Attorney General William Barr erroneously characterizes the families of victims of violent crimes as a homogeneous group unified in their support of the death penalty. Sarat points out that, in fact, some families of victims oppose the application of the death penalty (for a variety of reasons), so by trying to justify the reinstatement of the federal death penalty as bringing closure to victims and their families, Barr and his political allies are simply using these victims and their families to support his political ends.

The Right to Be Judged by What You Do, Not Who You Are

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the case for occasionally including status—“who you are”—in assigning blame in criminal matters. Colb explains that generally, our penal system prohibits “status offenses,” but sometimes, such as in the case of psychopaths, we are comfortable deciding how to punish a person based at least in part on who they are.

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... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... 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... more

John Dean
John Dean

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

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

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

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is the Dwight D. Opperman Professor, Director, Center for Labor and Employment... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... 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... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Fels Institute of Government Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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