Professor Markel's scholarship developed a new theory of retributive justice for liberal democracies, and applied that theory in particular to topics such as the proper scope of mercy, the death penalty, punitive damages, shaming punishments, and transitional justice in states recovering from mass atrocities.
His work was published in leading law reviews, and he also wrote for or appeared as a commentator in a wide variety of national and international mass media. Raised in Toronto, he studied politics and philosophy as an undergraduate at Harvard. He then did graduate work in political philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Cambridge, before returning to Harvard for his law degree, where he was an Olin Fellow and on law review. Upon graduation from law school, Professor Markel was a research fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School, a clerk for Judge Michael Daly Hawkins on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and an associate at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel in Washington, D.C., where he practiced white-collar criminal defense and civil litigation in trial and appellate courts. He taught primarily in the area of criminal law.