Jed S. Rakoff is a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York. (May 2016)

Neuroscience and the Law: Don’t Rush In

‘Deer, Boy’; drawing by James Edward Deeds Jr. from an album of nearly three hundred drawings that he made during his thirty-seven years as an inmate at a psychiatric hospital in Nevada, Missouri, starting in 1936. The drawings are collected in The Electric Pencil: Drawings from Inside State Hospital No. 3, with an introduction by Richard Goodman and a foreword by Harris Diamant, just published by Princeton Architectural Press.
As you sit reading this, you probably experience an internal voice, unheard by any outsider, that verbally repeats the words you see on the page. That voice (which, in your case, speaks perfect English) is part of what we call your conscious mind. And the physical organ that causes what …

The Magna Carta Betrayed?

King John of England approving the Magna Carta in 1215; illustration by John Leech, 1875
The year 2015 marked the eight hundredth anniversary of one of the most celebrated, and least read, of the world’s legal texts: the Magna Carta. The great twentieth-century British jurist Lord Denning described the Magna Carta as “the greatest constitutional document of all times—the foundation of the freedom of the …

A Fear of Foreign Law

Stephen Breyer
Perhaps no other member of the US Supreme Court has such an affinity for matters foreign as Justice Stephen Breyer. Married to a British clinical psychologist, and himself a member of France’s exclusive Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, Justice Breyer has thought long and hard about the relationship between …

Justice Deferred Is Justice Denied

Brandon Garrett, author of Too Big to Jail, a detailed investigation of deferred corporate prosecutions and their failure to achieve ‘meaningful structural or ethical reform’ within the companies that receive them, Charlottesville, Virginia, April 2012
At bottom, corporate fraud amounts to little more than executives lying for business purposes, and prosecution depends on proving that the lies were intentional. Are the changes forced upon companies by deferred prosecution agreements likely to materially change the decision of these individuals to lie when it suits their goals?

The Court of Courts

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg leaving the Southern District Court in Manhattan after they were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, August 1950
Later this year, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York will celebrate its 225th anniversary. Sometimes called the “Mother Court” because it is older than even the US Supreme Court, the Southern District is, with fifty sitting judges, the largest and busiest federal trial court …

The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?

Five years have passed since the onset of what is sometimes called the Great Recession. While the economy has slowly improved, there are still millions of Americans leading lives of quiet desperation: without jobs, without resources, without hope. Who was to blame? Was it simply a result of negligence, of the kind of inordinate risk-taking commonly called a “bubble,” of an imprudent but innocent failure to maintain adequate reserves for a rainy day? Or was it the result, at least in part, of fraudulent practices, of dubious mortgages portrayed as sound risks and packaged into ever more esoteric financial instruments, the fundamental weaknesses of which were intentionally obscured?