Yikes, deferral does not sound favorable at all. Basically RD applicants who apply in December are likely to hear back before you do. And having to email to say you'd still like to be considered (after you applied EA and are clearly keen) seems odd as well.
Deferred to regular applicant pool. Their deferral message seems like it was written by lobotomized monkey:
Cornell Deferral wrote:Our Admissions Committee has reviewed your Early Action application and has decided to defer your application to our regular J.D. application pool for further consideration.
Cornell Deferral wrote:
If you would like to continue to be considered for regular J.D. admission, please e-mail our office at firstname.lastname@example.org
as soon as possible. Your application will be considered again after our February 1st deadline for regular admission applications. If we do not hear from you by February 1st, we will assume you have made other plans and will withdraw your application.
The first part seems to imply that you are being lumped into the regular applicant pool automatically (i.e. you don't have to email them). The second part seems to imply that the only way you will be considered is if you do email them. No wonder they had a debacle about this last year.
Apologies if this has already been mentioned.
EDIT: It is pretty clear you have to email them but I can easily see a ton of people not reading it carefully and just assuming by the first sentence that they are automatically being deferred and then wondering in June why they haven't heard a response back yet.
I was deferred and heard back at the same time as other RD applicants. Also, I never did email them to express continued interest, and they accepted me anyway, so I expect it's not a carved-in-stone requirement.
People are deferred for a whole host of reasons, and it's not a sign Cornell won't eventually accept you. And every year is different (my year, lots of people who were deferred were accepted -- last year, not so much so...) If you really want to go and were deferred, send in additional materials and letters of continuing interest -- if you're in the pool of acceptable applicants, you're much more likely to get in if they honestly believe you'll attend.