Judge Rakoff on Being Right That The Death Penalty Is Unconstitutional

April 13th, 2012

What has been your most rewarding moment as a judge?

As a judge, to a substantial extent, you get to say what you think within the limits of what the law permits and that is very satisfying, very freeing. I would also say something I hadn’t really focused on when I became a judge that is tremendously rewarding, is being a mentor to my clerks. I cannot tell you how satisfying that is. I’ve had fantastic clerks and to watch them develop, to have the benefit of their intelligence, to see them in their further careers, I regard them as my extended family.

There have been many moments. Certainly, one of them was when I declared the death penalty unconstitutional even though I knew there was a meaningful possibility that I would be reversed. I didn’t start as an opponent of the death penalty. I really came around because of the DNA stuff. I gave the government several opportunities to tell me why I was wrong, but I became convinced that my own approach was the right approach. I still think so and I think the Supreme Court will come around to my view (one day).

He is quite certain.