Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes an incident where her dog “K” stalked and killed a rabbit, and she considers what criminal-law inferences we might draw from observing such predators’ behavior toward their prey. Colb ponders what distinguishes a dog who kills a rabbit from psychopaths who commit heinous crimes, noting that among humans, a so-called “moral imbecile” lacks conscience and empathy for others, and our society deems such individuals as deserving punishment.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the revelation that before she died, Norma McCorvey—the woman who was the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade and who had subsequently become a prominent spokesperson for overturning the decision—said she was never really pro-life after all. Using this example, Dorf explains why, in some ways, the individual plaintiff’s identity does not matter for the purpose of deciding an important legal issue, yet in other ways, the plaintiff’s underlying story can be very important for other reasons.
In this second of a series of columns about the COVID-19 protests, Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies argues, with some caveats, that workers have the moral authority to reopen their businesses in order to sustain themselves. Margulies notes that while he is not advising anyone to disobey the law (and while he personally supports the lockdown orders), business owners facing the impossible decision whether to follow the law or sustain themselves and their families are morally justified in defying the stay-at-home orders.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the protests that have erupted over COVID-19 restrictions. Margulies argues that because the state cannot (or will not) live up to its end of the social contract by committing to sustain people’s livelihood for the duration of the restrictions, the protests are morally legitimate.
Surgeon and bioethicist Charles E. Binkley, MD, offers a perspective on how we might make sense of suffering, particularly in light of the present COVID-19 pandemic. Binkley suggests that through suffering, we are paradoxically able to find good, and in this instance, that good might be the practice of social reciprocity.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the four purported goals of the criminal justice system—deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, and rehabilitation—and argues that retribution may preclude rehabilitation. Colb considers whether restorative justice—wherein a victim has a conversation with the offender and talks about what he did to her and why it was wrong—might better serve the rehabilitative purpose than long prison sentences do.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on some of the national myths about America and explains why they are at best misleading, and at worst, outright lies. For example, Margulies debunks the claim that America is “the land of opportunity” and “the land of milk and honey.”
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies reminds us that the rule of law exists in the United States primarily to conceal politics; that is, one cannot rely on having “the law” on one’s side if politics are opposed. Margulies illustrates this point by replacing “the lawyers reviewed the law and decided” with “the high priests studied the entrails and decided”—a substitution that ultimately yields the same results.
Clinical bioethicist Charles E. Binkley responds to a recent column by Verdict columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb regarding the existence of evil in the world. Using a theological framework, Binkley addresses the central question Colb raised in her column and proposes a corollary question about communal evil.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb reflects on why, if God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and benevolent, there is still evil in the world. Colb argues that one common answer—free will—does not truly resolve that question.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses blackmail and the paradox of coercion, that is, the phenomenon where the law permits two different actions but prohibits a person from making one action a condition of the other. Colb proposes that our laws should evolve over time toward a framework that is less and less supportive of coercion.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin responds to Professor Patricia Churchland’s book, Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition, offering contrasting views on morality. While Griffin recommends reading the book, she offers a differing view from that of the author, arguing that the physical brain can and does give rise to reason-centered moral rules to ethics.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb cautions against using a disgust reaction alone to justify legislation—particularly legislation involving criminal penalties. Colb points out that disgust can sometimes help us determine that something bad is in fact going on, but we should not to allow disgust to power our moral choices without interrogation.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies discusses the public dimension of forgiveness and explains why politics are inherent in the act of forgiving. Margulies describes numerous examples of people whose arguably comparable transgressions resulted in society’s vastly different degrees of willingness to forgive them.
In recognition of the bicentennial of Herman Melville’s birth, Touro Law Center professor Rodger Citron discusses the continuing relevance of Melville’s Billy Budd. Citron provides a brief summary of the novel, considers a few conflicting interpretations of it, and explains why it is relevant for legal professionals even today.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some ideological inconsistencies with the abortion law recently passed in Alabama, which prohibits all abortions except those necessary to protect against a serious health risk to the pregnant woman. Colb points out if an embryo or fetus and the woman carrying it are equally entitled to exist, then the exception for the serious health risk to the woman is inconsistent with that perceived equality. Colb also argues that the decision of Alabama lawmakers to penalize the abortion provider but not the abortion seeker similarly requires accepting on some level that a woman and her embryo or fetus are not co-equal occupants, which is inconsistent with the pro-life vision behind Alabama’s law.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses some of the she ideas she also expressed in a speech on identity politics. Specifically, Colb explains that the phenomenon of identity politics concerns two components: (1) identity and naming, and (2) victim culture.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies reflects on a class he taught in a prison last Election Day that presents questions of elections and fear in an age of tribalism. Margulies describes the heightened state of fear in the United States, defines tribalism, and explains why true freedom requires an open—rather than closed—mind.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes two different attitudes toward patient autonomy using anecdotes—one of a cancer doctor and another of an abortion provider. Colb considers why the two attitudes differ and explain how the former can learn from the latter about patient empowerment.
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.