Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the divergent paths of Florida and Ohio with respect to capital punishment in those states. Professor Sarat argues that it is time for America to make up its mind on the death penalty and either follow Ohio’s path toward a future without capital punishment, bringing this country into line with the community of nations, or else follow Florida’s example by expanding death sentences and executions.
Professor Neil H. Buchanan—an economist and legal scholar who is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall Law School and the University of Toronto Law, and who has accepted a research sabbatical and retirement offer from the University of Florida—discusses the erosion of academic freedom and tenure in universities, specifically focusing on recent legislative changes in Florida that undermine intellectual freedom. Professor Buchanan argues that the political climate has made it nearly impossible to challenge these changes effectively, leading him to conclude that sometimes a strategic retreat is necessary when facing an unyielding and empowered opposition.
Professor Neil H. Buchanan, a professor who has accepted a research sabbatical and retirement offer from the University of Florida, explains his decision to leave. He cites Florida’s increasingly hostile stance towards professors and higher education, driven by the state’s Republican Party, as the main cause for his departure, expressing concern over the state’s attacks on tenure, academic freedom, and its enactment of vaguely written laws that could compromise educational integrity, leading to a “brain drain” from the state.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf criticizes Florida’s new middle school social studies education standards, which suggest that enslaved people benefited from slavery in some instances by learning skills such as carpentry or blacksmithing that they could later use for personal benefit. Professor Dorf argues that this perspective dangerously minimizes the horrors of slavery, and could be a calculated move by political figures like Governor Ron DeSantis to leverage culture war issues, distort historical truths, and consolidate power.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on today's announcement that federal district court judge Aileen Cannon set a May 2024 trial date in Donald Trump’s trial for obstructing justice and unlawfully taking and retaining national security documents at Mar-a-Lago after he left office. Mr. Aftergut points out that Judge Cannon “split the baby” by choosing a date between the proposals of Special Counsel Jack Smith and Trump’s lawyers but argues that the decision reveals little about whether she will treat Trump more favorably than other criminal defendants.
Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut comments on the decision by the College Board, which certifies Advanced Placement (AP) high school curricula, for acquiescing to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis by revising the curriculum in African American History. Mr. Aftergut argues that, by acceding to DeSantis’s bullying, the College Board has short-changed freedom of thought for the next generation of high school students and has helped erode our pluralistic future.
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.”
University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton comments on the recent news that the Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, a Jewish synagogue in Florida, has sued the state under the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) over its new restrictive abortion laws that it argues violate their religious faith. Professor Hamilton praises the synagogue for leading the charge against an oppressive minority but condemns the tool it must use to do so—RFRA— which Hamilton argues is a tried-and-true path to religious division and mutual intolerance.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the Eleventh Circuit sitting en banc, in which the court upheld Florida’s Section 0751, by which the Republican-controlled state legislature gutted a voter referendum that would have restored the right to vote to ex-felons in the state who had served their time. Dorf points out that the court’s vote was split based on the party of the President who appointed them and argues that the majority exhibited an attitude of “petty sticklerism,” invoking formalistic and reality-denying reasons to rule as it did.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—explains how a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court allowing that state to proceed with its plan to execute Harry Franklin Phillips highlights America’s illusory quest to ensure that the death penalty be precisely targeted only at “the worst of the worst.” Sarat argues that it is now time to acknowledge that the attempt to exclude clear categories of offenders from death eligibility has failed to adequately protect the dignity of those prisoners, which Justice Anthony Kennedy viewed as a central part of the Eighth Amendment.
Marci A. Hamilton—professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania and founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA—discusses the significance of Patriots owner Robert Kraft being charged with soliciting a prostitute at a strip mall in Florida, after a sting exposed a sex trafficking scheme there. Hamilton points out the differences between the handling of Kraft and the mishandling of Palm Beach sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and suggests Kraft may be the “canary in the coal mine” indicating a shift of power from perpetrators to their victims.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by a federal court in Florida correctly denying an employer’s motion for summary judgment in a workplace rape case that deserves a full trial on the merits. Grossman points out that anti-discrimination law is not sufficient to eliminate, or even substantially reduce, the incidence of sexual harassment at work, but it is unquestionably necessary to address that problem and protect survivors.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses several legislative proposals in various states that purport to give state legislatures power to interpret and implement the federal Constitution notwithstanding judicial rulings interpreting the same. Amar explains some of the key differences between the different proposals and why some are likely to pass constitutional muster while others are not.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies discusses the problem of states executing death row inmates under laws subsequently found to be unconstitutional, as has happened in Texas and in Florida, and likely in many other cases. Margulies laments that the United States continues to experiment with capital punishment when experience demonstrates the procedures for imposing this irreversible sentence are rife with problems.