Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, October 31, 2016

James Comey on the cultivation of judgment, and on the importance of getting enough sleep and having a life (May 2016)

With FBI Director James Comey a person of greater than normal interest these days, many are forming opinions of him based on recent events, rather than forming opinions of recent events based on what they know of him.

Both ways of approaching matters make sense, but each has its pitfalls as well.

Those interested in learning more about Director Comey and what kind of internal processes he may have gone through in making decisions over the past several months might learn something useful from his May 2016 commencement speech to the graduates of the University of Richmond School of Law

A few snippets:

Judgment is different than intelligence. Intelligence is actually fairly common. Judgment is very rare. Intelligence is the ability to solve the riddle and nail a set of facts. Lots of people can do that. Judgment is the ability to circle, to orbit that answer, and see how it might be seen through the eyes of others, to move the answer in place and time, to try and see how it might be seen a year from now in Congress, five years from now in a newspaper editorial office, how might other people experience this. 

* * *

So where does this come from, the ability to orbit a situation and see it through the eyes of others. It comes from screwing up, from doing things that tick people off and then remembering that's how people see that, that's how they experience it. It's mostly a gift to you and it is nurtured along the way, the gift is protected and nurtured.

* * *

I have two slightly weird pieces of advice.

The first is sleep. Sleep is not a moral failing. There is all kinds of science to support. What is going on while you sleep? Your brain is engaging in a neurochemical ballet to amass the data you [picked up] during the day and make connections. It is laying down judgment in your head while you sleep.

My second, slightly weird piece of advice is, you have got to keep a life. One of the things that nurtures and protects judgment is physical distance from whatever is dominating your life. And most of your cases that will be work. You have got to step away from the work. I don't know whether that is kickboxing, stamp collecting, or dancing, you must keep doing it. That physical distance from the work fosters and protects your ability to orbit a situation and see it from different perspectives. Get away from this work.

As for the recent unpleasantness, I'll simply report that the most helpful analyses for my thinking about the issues comes from Jack Goldsmith and Ben Wittes. (See, for example, here and here.)


Walsh, Kevin | Permalink