[Marxism] A Legal Lion Lays Down His Gavel With a Ruling of ‘Love, Not Hate’
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Tue Feb 18 07:38:12 MST 2020
NY Times, Feb. 178, 2020
A Legal Lion Lays Down His Gavel With a Ruling of ‘Love, Not Hate’
By Alan Feuer
For more than half a century, Judge Jack B. Weinstein was the
quintessential activist jurist, using his longtime perch on the federal
bench in Brooklyn to champion causes like gun control and school
desegregation. In his career — one of the longest in American legal
history — he carved out a niche as both a liberal hero and, not
surprisingly, a bane for conservatives.
Last week, at age 98, Judge Weinstein announced his retirement, saying
he no longer had the stamina to perform his daily duties. In an
interview with The New York Times, he looked back over a tenure so
packed with accolades that his résumé now runs to more than 70 pages. He
said his unremitting hope and faith in the judicial system remained
intact even in the current polarized political climate.
“I’m convinced our country is bound to equalize, democratize and to save
with love, not hate,” he said.
Born in Kansas in 1921, Judge Weinstein earned his law degree in 1948
from Columbia University after playing bit parts on Broadway and serving
as a submarine officer in the Pacific theater during World War II.
In his early years as a lawyer, he helped write legal briefs in the
landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education. After he was
named to the bench in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, he presided
over groundbreaking mass tort cases involving the use of asbestos and
the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange.
At the height of his career, Judge Weinstein, who is known for his
impressive eyebrows and his iconoclastic temperament, handled several
high-profile Mafia cases, including the prosecution of Vincent Gigante,
known as the Chin, the former boss of the Genovese crime family. A
stickler for propriety, Judge Weinstein once ordered the mob don, famous
for dressing in his bathrobe, to shower and spruce up when he came to court.
In the past decade, Judge Weinstein turned his attention even further
toward legal changes, publicly calling for more female lawyers to have
speaking roles in court and decrying the “lack of sentencing
alternatives” for violent young criminals who, he said, are often
written off as “society’s unredeemables.” He has also tackled the
endemic problem of police officers lying on the witness stand.
Why retire now?
I’ve decided I’ve exhausted my extra store of energy, and I really can’t
undertake any cases with the promise that I’ll have enough energy,
physical energy, to hear them appropriately. The last thing I would want
to do was take new cases and not be able to give them adequate attention.
How would you like to see your legacy described?
I would like to be remembered for trying to work with individuals to
help them avoid the life-killing environment of prisons and to save them
for a life with relatives and friends, with a job, and with the
opportunity to lead a lawful life. Partly by reducing sentences to the
extent possible, partly by reducing supervised release and partly by
getting them out into the real world. It’s on a one-to-one basis that I
see myself operating — the judge to the individual defendant.
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What about recent reforms to the criminal justice system?
Individual judges can accomplish more with the aid of our pretrial and
post-trial supervision, a shortening of the period needed to integrate
people back into society. In my case, I can do it just by shortening
sentences. That’s the quickest way to shorten the amount of excessive
time we use for incarceration.
Sentencing reform has been a focus of yours for a long time, no?
From the outset. I was born in a period just after World War I in an
area right outside one of the Wichita Indian settlements. And I saw a
lot of terrible things during the Depression. People sleeping in parks
and on the streets. And when I came back from the war, during that
postwar period, we did a great deal to equalize opportunities for women,
African-Americans, Jews and a lot of discriminated-against people. And
our equalization rate went way up. Now it’s starting to crash. But I’m
convinced our country is bound to equalize, democratize and to save with
love, not hate.
Why are you so convinced about that trajectory?
We’ve come so far toward equalization. The country has changed so
enormously for the better. Now, yes, it is going downhill. But I’m
convinced that we will come together. It’s essentially a good country
made up of people who will fight for what’s right.
Are you concerned that the federal judiciary may be changing?
At the appellate level, yes, it’s a problem. And the Supreme Court, it’s
become very conservative. But our district court structure remains very
good. The judges are good and they will protect and improve democracy
You have always run a transparent courtroom. What are your feelings
about the role of the media in the legal process?
The media is essential because if people don’t know what’s going on,
they can’t make sensible decisions. They can’t understand what their own
role is. If they’re getting lies or improper information, how can they
can handle their responsibilities as American voting citizens? It simply
So what will you do now?
I would like to take a master’s degree in history. I’m particularly
interested in Jim Crowism — how African-Americans earned equality and
then had it taken from them. I have a son who is a physician who just
retired and he and I are going to be studying that together. How did
this great victory that was won in the Civil War get snatched away by a
combination of southern slave owners and northerners who bought cheap
cotton? The artifacts of which are still present to a large degree in
places like New York where, even after Brown v. Board of Education,
there remains essentially a segregated school system.
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