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Austin D. Sarat

William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science Chair, Amherst College
Chapter Member: Boston SSN
Areas of Expertise:

About Austin

Sarat's research focuses on a multitude of topics related to the cultural and social life of American law. Sarat includes some lines of research such as the death penalty, “lawful lawlessness,” areas in which the law authorizes, but does not regulate, the exercise of power (such as executive power to grant or deny clemency and the power of prosecutors to decide who to charge with crimes), regulation of guns, and cause lawyers (lawyers who dedicate themselves advancing a political cause rather than representing individual clients). Sarat frequently provides commentary for a number of media outlets including The New Republic, The Guardian, Aljazeera America, HuffPost Live, Bloomberg Radio, National Public Radio, and more.

In the News

Opinion: "Nothing in Our History Prepares Americans for What’s Likely To Arrive This November," Austin D. Sarat, The Hill, September 20, 2022.
Opinion: "Lindsay Graham’s Gambit Is the Next Step Toward a Nationwide Abortion Ban," Austin D. Sarat, Verdict, September 16, 2022.
Opinion: "It’s Time to End the Inhumanity of Confinement on America’s Death Rows," Austin D. Sarat, Verdict, September 8, 2022.
Opinion: "Biden’s Democracy Speech Highlights the New American Dilemma, Violence or Voting," Austin D. Sarat, Verdict, September 6, 2022.
Opinion: "The Trump Officials Who Took Children From Their Parents Should Be Prosecuted," Austin D. Sarat (with Dennis Aftergut), The Guardian, September 6, 2022.
Opinion: "Witnessing an Execution Is Always Problematic, Even When There’s Nothing Much To See," Austin D. Sarat, The Hill, September 2, 2022.
Opinion: "Lessons for Progressives From a Devastating Supreme Court Loss," Austin D. Sarat, Slate, July 7, 2022.


"Lethal Injection and the False Promise of Humane Execution" (with Matteca Denny, Greene Ko, Nicolas Gaber-Mitchell, Rose Mroczka, and Lauren Pelosi) (Stanford University Press, 2022).

Tells the story of lethal injection's earliest iterations in the United States, starting with New York state's rejection of that execution method almost a century and a half ago. Recounts lethal injection's return in the late 1970s, and offers novel and insightful scrutiny of the new drug protocols that went into effect between 2010 and 2020, making the case that lethal injections during this time only became more unreliable, inefficient, and more frequently botched.

Law's Infamy Understanding the Canon of Bad Law (edited with Lawrence Douglas and Martha Umphrey) (New York University Press, 2021).

Asks when and why the word infamy should be used to characterize legal decisions or actions. Seeks to demonstrate how legal institutions engage in infamous actions and urges that scholars and activists label them as such, highlighting the damage done when law itself acts infamously and focus of infamous decisions that are worthy of repudiation.

The Lives of Guns (edited with Andrew Poe and Jonathan Obert) (Oxford University Press, 2019).

Offers a new and compelling way of thinking about the role of the gun in our social and political lives. Shows by gathering ideas from law, science studies, sociology, and politics, each chapter turns the stale, standard gun conversations around by investigating the gun as an object with agency.

"The Death Penalty on the Ballot: American Democracy and the Fate of Capital Punishment" (with John Malugue and Sarah Wishloff) (Cambridge University Press, 2019).

Investigates the attitudes about capital punishment in contemporary America by exploring the question, can ending the death penalty be done democratically? Explains how referendum processes have played an important, but generally neglected, role in the recent history of America's death penalty.

Guns in Law (edited with Lawrence Douglas and Martha Umphrey) (University of Massachusetts , 2018).

Mentions confronting urgent questions, among them the usefulness of history as a guide in ongoing struggles over gun regulation, the changing meaning of the Second Amendment, the perspective of law enforcement on guns and gun control law, and individual and relational perspectives on gun rights.