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Graber-Mitchell, Nicolas. (2022).


In the United States, religion sometimes erupts into trials, transforming cases about something else into cases about religion. For example, a juror in a corruption case may cite divine revelation, a witness in a civil case may refuse to swear a statutory oath involving a Bible, or a school may request a judge to force an ex-employee before a religious court in a labor dispute. In all of these cases, judges must decide how to proceed: should the juror continue to serve? Should the witness be allowed to take an oath of their own formulation? Should the force of law stand behind a priest’s scriptural decision? Through an analysis of the history of law and religion interacting inside law’s own processes, this thesis shows how over time, the American legal system has become functionally differentiated from religion. However, judges’ incomplete and incorrect understandings of what this differentiation entails—in other words, how to properly enforce law’s secularism—has led them to allow the subversion of law’s liberal, secular norms when religion is involved. To ensure that American law remains sufficiently secular, judges must not ignore religion in the courtroom. Instead of such a procedural understanding of secularism, judges must adopt a substantive secularism that recognizes legal norms and protects them from subversion while simultaneously honoring law’s normative commitments to religious toleration.

Available on SSRN.

Lethal Injection and the False Promise of Humane Execution

Sarat, Austin and Mattea Denney and Nicolas Graber-Mitchell and Greene Ko and Rose Mroczka and Lauren Pelosi. Stanford University Press (2022).


From the beginning of the Republic, this country has struggled to reconcile its use of capital punishment with the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel punishment. Death penalty proponents argue both that it is justifiable as a response to particularly heinous crimes, and that it serves to deter others from committing them in the future. However, since the earliest executions, abolitionists have fought against this state-sanctioned killing, arguing, among other things, that the methods of execution have frequently been just as gruesome as the crimes meriting their use. Lethal injection was first introduced in order to quell such objections, but, as Austin Sarat shows in this brief history, its supporters’ commitment to painless and humane death has never been certain.

This book 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 half ago. Sarat 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. Drawing on rare data, he makes the case that lethal injections during this time only became more unreliable, inefficient, and more frequently botched. Beyond his stirring narrative history, Sarat mounts a comprehensive condemnation of the state-level maneuvering in response to such mishaps, whereby death penalty states adopted secrecy statutes and adjusted their execution protocols to make it harder to identify and observe lethal injection’s flaws.

What was once touted as America’s most humane execution method is now its most unreliable one. What was once a model of efficiency in the grim business of state killing is now marked by mayhem. The book concludes by critically examining the place of lethal injection, and the death penalty writ large, today.

Available from Stanford University Press, Amazon, and your local independent bookstore (on order).

The Fate of Lethal Injection: Decomposition of the Paradigm and Its Consequences

Sarat, Austin and Mattea Denney and Nicolas Graber-Mitchell and Greene Ko and Rose Mroczka and Lauren Pelosi. The British Journal of American Legal Studies 11, no. 1 (June 2022): 81-111.


This article examines the use of lethal injection from 2010-2020. That period marks the “decomposition” of the standard three drug protocol and the proliferating use of new drugs or drug combinations in American executions. That development is associated with an increase in the number and type of mishaps encountered during lethal injections. This article describes and analyzes those mishaps and the ways death penalty jurisdictions responded, and adapted, to them. It suggests that the recent history of lethal injection echoes the longer history of the death penalty. When states encountered problems with their previous methods of execution, they first attempted to address these problems by tinkering with their existing methods. When tinkering failed, they adopted allegedly more humane execution methods. When they ran into difficulty with the new methods, state actors scrambled to hide the death penalty from public view. New drugs and drug combinations may have allowed the machinery of death to keep running. New procedures may have given the lethal injection process a veneer of legitimacy. But none of these recent changes has resolved its fate or repaired its vexing problems.

Available on Sciendo and SSRN.

Artificial Illusions: Deepfakes as Speech

Graber-Mitchell, Nicolas. The Stanford Journal of Science, Technology, and Society 14, no. 3 (June 23, 2021).


Deepfakes, a new type of artificial media created by sophisticated machine learning algorithms, present a fundamental epistemological problem to society: How can we know the truth when seeing and hearing are not believing? This paper discusses how deepfakes fit into the category of illusory speech, what they do in society, and how to deal with them. Illusions present an alternate reality, much like a lie, but they also contain evidence for that reality. Some illusions, like games of tag and magic tricks, are harmless and fun. Others, like counterfeit coins and deepfakes, harm others and are deeply convincing. For example, the most common use for deepfake technology is to produce pornographic videos of women who never consented. After strangers attacked them in this way, women reported feeling violated and living in a state of constant “visceral fear.” Pornographic deepfakes — most often deployed against women — abridge their targets’ sexual agency and privacy, contributing to inequality and enabling intimate partner abuse, workplace sexual harassment, and other discrimination and hate. Deepfakes also pose a threat in politics and society more generally. In addition to allowing malicious actors to produce convincing, illusory disinformation, their increased use may lead to a general inability to discern the truth. In the face of the deep and distressing harms that deepfakers cause to women and the danger that they present to democracy, this paper argues for new civil and criminal penalties for deepfakers as well as new regulations and liabilities for internet platforms that host their work.

Available from Intersect and on SSRN.

Planes, Strains, and Hurricanes: Elections in the Wake of Catastrophes

Graber-Mitchell, Nicolas. The Amherst Dialectic 1, no. 1 (2020): 10-43.


Catastrophes often impact voting. From the coronavirus pandemic to Hurricane Katrina to 9/11, states and territories have dealt with catastrophes by canceling, replacing, postponing, and modifying elections. However, states rarely adopt preventative measures in their election statutes. By examining case studies from three different 21st century elections affected by catastrophe, I present a full account of the types of mitigatory measures that states take in response to different types of disasters. After highlighting the need for prevention and identifying how disasters act on elections, I argue that states and territories should implement universal vote-by-mail, hold elections over an entire week, and eliminate voter registration to make their elections more resilient to catastrophe.

Available on SSRN and from The Amherst Dialectic.

Note: the following work predates my undergraduate education.

Finding the period of a simple pendulum

A low-level, fairly bad mathematics paper that I wrote in high school.


Pendulums have long fascinated humans ever since Galileo theorized that they are isochronic with regards to their swing. While this simplification is useful in the case of small-angle pendulums due to the accuracy of the small-angle approximation, it breaks down for large-angle pendulums and can cause larger problems with the computational modelling of simple pendulums. This paper will examine the differences between the periods of small-angle and large-angle pendulums, offering derivations of the period in both models from the basic laws of nature. This paper also provides a common way of deriving elliptic integrals from physical phenomena, and the period of pendulums has been one of the major building blocks in this new, developing field. Lastly, this paper makes a number of suggestions for extensions into the study of simple pendulums that can be performed. While this paper is not intended as a rigorous mathematical proof, it is designed to illuminate the derivation of the exact periods of simple pendulums and carefully walks through the mathematics involved.

Available on the arXiv and for download.

The application of an Ames fluctuation assay to determine the mutagenicity of freshwater sediment in Minnesota

Another paper from high school. Less bad this time. Involved actual lab research at the University of Minnesota.

Available for download.