Jed S. Rakoff is a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York. (May 2020)


Covid & the Courts

A socially distanced courtroom in Los Angeles, April 21, 2020
I am writing this piece while sitting, alone, in my chambers at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in Lower Manhattan. I am one of several federal judges who have volunteered to come to the courthouse at least one day each week to deal with any emergency matters that …

Jailed by Bad Science

Brandon Mayfield and his children outside a federal courthouse after his release from custody, Portland, Oregon, May 2004. Mayfield was arrested after fingerprints on a bag found near the site of the 2004 Madrid bombings were mistakenly identified as his.
Anyone who watches crime shows knows that twenty-first-century police and prosecutors have at their disposal an array of modern forensic techniques—ways of analyzing hair, fibers, paint, clothing, firearms, bloodstains, and even bitemarks—that can “scientifically” establish guilt or innocence. Or can they? It has become increasingly apparent that most of these …

The Last of His Kind

The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years

by Justice John Paul Stevens
The inspiring legacy of Justice John Paul Stevens—including both the brilliance of his mind and the humaneness of his character—are well represented in his last book, The Making of a Justice, published just two months before his death this past July at age ninety-nine. But if, as seems likely, the …

Our Lying Eyes

An eyewitness’s identification of an accused defendant often provides some of the most dramatic and powerful evidence in a criminal case. “Do you see in this courtroom the person you saw fire the fatal shot?” asks the prosecutor. “Yes,” says the eyewitness, pointing to the defendant, adding for good measure, “I will never forget his face.” But in fact the eyewitness is frequently wrong: inaccurate eyewitness identifications appear to be the single greatest contributor to wrongful convictions. For example, they were introduced as evidence in over 70 percent of the more than 360 cases that the Innocence Project, using DNA analysis, later proved were wrongful convictions. Nearly a third of these cases, moreover, involved multiple misidentifications of the defendant.

Hail to the Chief

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall; painting by Henry Inman, 1832

Without Precedent: John Marshall and His Times

by Joel Richard Paul
George Washington was an inspiring leader, and Thomas Jefferson could turn a phrase; but to federal judges, the greatest of the Founding Fathers was undoubtedly John Marshall, chief justice of the US Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835, who forged the rule of federal law in American life. In his …


Washington’s Legacy for American Jews: ‘To Bigotry No Sanction’

A daily service at Touro Synagogue, the centuries-old place of worship of the Jewish community of Rhode Island, which welcomed President George Washington as a visitor in 1790 and gave rise to his famous letter about religious freedom, Newport, 2004

Warden Seixas’s letter immediately brought forth from Washington the now-famous response, undated but sent on August 21, 1790. As a number of commentators have remarked, it has sometimes been overlooked how good a politician George Washington could sometimes be. Picking right up on Seixas’s theme, and using some of Seixas’s own language, he noted that in the United States “[a]ll possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship,” and that the government of the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” These are the words for which the letter remains famous.