February 21, 2014
Humility in Jackson's "The Federal Prosecutor"
Cecelia's post on prosecutors as ministers of justice reminded me of Robert Jackson's 1940 speech, "The Federal Prosecutor." Her focus on the humility that a prosecutor must possess in order to recognize he or she has prosecuted the wrong person echoes Jackson's identification of the need for everyday prosecutorial humility at the very end of his talk:
The qualities of a good prosecutor are as elusive and as impossible to define as those which mark a gentleman. And those who need to be told would not understand it anyway. A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen's safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.
As this excerpt reveals, humility is but one of the character traits that a prosecutor must possess. And more generally, it is impossible to read Jackson's speech or to think about the problems examined in Cecelia's post without coming away with the sense that, to paraphrase The American President, "Being [a prosecutor in] this country is entirely about character."