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.
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.
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.
Frederick Baron, former associate deputy attorney general and director of the Executive Office for National Security in the Department of Justice, Dennis Aftergut, a former federal prosecutor, and Austin Sarat, Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College, call upon the House Judiciary Committee to carefully read the ethics complaint by 27 distinguished DC lawyers against William Barr before questioning him today, July 28, 2020.
In light of the federal government’s resumption of executions, Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some of the common arguments of proponents and opponents of capital punishment. Colb observes that many of the moral arguments are based on a consequentialist perspective and suggests that a deontological perspective might lead to novel arguments and considerations about the death penalty.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the recent incident in which Amy Cooper, a young white woman, called the police on Christian Cooper, an African American man who was birdwatching in Central Park. Margulies argues that the repercussions of Ms. Cooper’s actions—her suffering public ridicule and losing the valuable commodity of anonymity—achieve both the consequentialist and retributivist purposes of our penal system, so for the state to prosecute her as well would serve only to humiliate and demonize her
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent Executive Order issued by President Trump calling for the creation of a “National Garden of American Heroes.” Dorf argues that we should recognize the Executive Order for the distraction that it mostly is and points out some of the Order’s fallacies, ambiguities, and inconsistencies.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on Attorney General William Barr’s recent order to resume federal executions and the political implications of that order. Sarat briefly describes the history of the federal death penalty in the United States and explains that, regardless of what state we live in, when the federal government puts someone to death, it does so in all of our names.
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.