Amherst professor Austin Sarat observes that the push for death penalty abolition in the United States faced a year of mixed outcomes in 2023, marked by a rise in executions but also legislative progress in some states like Washington. Professor Sarat observes that states like Alabama and South Carolina are making efforts to proceed with executions using new methods or secured drug supplies, Ohio and Tennessee have shown more cautious or progressive stances, signaling an incremental and complex journey toward abolition.
Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on the recent expulsion of two Democratic representatives from the Tennessee legislature after the representatives (along with one other) participated in a peaceful but disruptive protest on the House floor. Professor Margulies points out that Tennessee has a history of silencing Democratic voices through state-law preemption of local laws on matters including minimum wage, antidiscrimination law, restrictions on plastic containers, access to broadband internet, gun control, and more.
In this fifth column in a series about the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers, Cornell professor of government Joseph Margulies argues that, for any good to come of Nichols’s death, we must judge his killers in a forgiving spirit. Professor Margulies explains what it means to judge in a forgiving spirit: to assess the actions of another anchored in the unshakeable belief that those who have done wrong are nonetheless one of us.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies points out that the Memphis police officers who beat Tyre Nichols to death were doing exactly what the SCORPION unit of the department was supposed to do. Professor Margulies argues that until we collectively quash the belief that “we” are threatened until “they” are brought to heel, society will futilely pursue public safety while disregarding public suffering.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies observes that the Memphis Police Department’s Policies and Procedures document is missing an entire section called “Response to Resistance,” which sets the rules governing the use of force by a Memphis officer, including deadly force. Professor Margulies points out that adopting or amending rules is not enough to solve the problem that led to the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers; rather we police culture must change. Indeed, Margulies argues, the SCORPION unit was doing exactly what Memphis leaders inside and outside the Department wanted it to do.
Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on Tennessee’s recent last-minute cancellation of the execution of Oscar Franklin Smith for a “technical oversight.” Professor Sarat points out that such problems typically mean that state officials identified contamination in the compounded execution drugs or the “use by date” had passed, but the veil of secrecy surrounding executions prevents the public from discovering the true nature of the problem.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a “father knows best” bill that the Tennessee state legislature is currently considering, which would allow the father of a pregnancy to obtain an injunction against the mother’s having an abortion. Professor Colb notes that while requiring consent of the pregnancy’s father might make intuitive sense and most abortion decisions do include the father, she points out that “father knows best” (and father notification) laws disregard the interests of the embryo/fetus (by giving a father a say in whether to proceed with an abortion) and redistribute control of reproduction from women to men. Professor Colb argues that for these reasons, the Tennessee bill is even more objectionable than an outright ban on the procedure would have been.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a law recently passed (and challenged) in Tennessee that purports to prohibit ministers ordained online from presiding over marriages in that state. Grossman explains why the Tennessee legislature passed the law and why it is being challenged, and she points out that based on the judge’s questions during the proceedings, the state may ultimately have to show at trial how the law is rationally related to its legitimate regulation of entry into marriage—regardless of whether it burdens the free exercise of religion.