I have authored or edited more than 100 books and am interested broadly in the cultural and social life of American law. Currently I am pursuing several distinct lines of research.
First, I am studying what I call state killing, what others call the death penalty, in order to understand what state killing reveals about American values and beliefs. I use the death penalty as a lens through which to view ideas about responsibility and blame, pain and its proper uses, race and fairness, mercy and the possibilities of redemption.
I recently completed a book-length study of botched executions in the United States (Gruesome Sprectacles: Botched Executions and Ameruca's Death Penalty) and a study of race and capital punishment in the United States. I have launched a new project on democracy and the death penalty. In this project, I am examining what happens when the question of retaining/abolishing the death penalty is put on the ballot.
I am also interested in what I call “lawful lawlessness,” areas in which the law authorizes, but does not regulate, the exercise of power. What do these areas tell us about the rule of law and its limits? The executive power to grant or deny clemency is certainly one of those areas. Another is the power of prosecutors to decide who to charge with crimes. Here courts have said that prosecutors can refuse to prosecute someone who has violated the law for good reasons, or bad reasons, or no reasons at all and that such a decision is not subject to judicial review.
I have also done extensive research on cause lawyers. These lawyers explicitly and self-consciously devote themselves to advancing a political cause rather than representing individual clients. I focus on the various ways that such lawyers serve and constrain social movements as well as the challenges that cause lawyering poses to traditional ideas of lawyering and lawyer professionalism.
Another line of work concers the legal regulation of guns. In that work I am trying to understand the uses and limits of law to regulate firearms.
Finally, my research focuses on the cultural life of law or law in popular culture. I have editred a book entitled Trial Films on Trial and I am now writing a book entitled Hollywood’s Law: What Movies Do for Democracy. This book examines movies about law from 1950 to 2000 in order to understand how these films contribute to the development of democratic citizenship.
In addition to my scholarship, my public writing has appeared in such places as The New Republic, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, The National Law Journal, The Providence Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Aljazeera America, US News, CNN, Politico, and The Daily Beast. I have been a commentator or guest on HuffPost Live, Bloomberg Radio, National Public Radio, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Public Television’s The News Hour, Odyssey, Democracy Now, RT International, ABC World News Tonight, MSNBC, Aljazeera America TV, Sputnik News-Moscow, All in with Chris Hayes, The Point with Ari Melber, and The O'Reilly Factor.