Analysis and Commentary on Philosophy and Ethics

A Police Shooting and the Power of Narratives

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes two different narrative lenses through which one could perceive (and interpret) the shooting of an unarmed African American man by a white police officer: the “Blue Lives Matter” narrative and the “Black Lives Matter” narrative. Colb explains how such narratives shape public reactions to such incidents, and she calls upon everyone to pay attention to the facts and feel less wedded to our narratives so that we may be better able to deal with and sometimes even prevent future hardship.

#MeToo: Counting the Collective Harm of Missing Women’s Work

In light of recent revelations about Ryan Adams, a powerful musician and music producer, Illinois law professors Robin B. Kar and Lesley Wexler discuss the collective harm the scourge of sexual harassment inflicts on society, depriving it of countless and invaluable contributions. Kar and Wexler point out that research demonstrates that experiences of sexual harassment cause not only individual harms to women (such as decreases in mental and physical well-being) but also organizational withdrawal, decreases in organizational commitment, and decreases in productivity and job performance. The exact losses due to this withdrawal have yet to be measured, but evidence suggests the magnitude is enormous.

Rape and Confessions

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains how a better understanding of consent in a police interrogation context can inform our understanding of consent in a sexual context. Colb argues that the solution to both is to educate everyone more effectively about what will and will not successfully make things (the interrogation or the sexual activity) stop.

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.

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 is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George... 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

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 Robert A. Fox Leadership Program 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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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