This is a nervous period for progressive people. The advent of an administration seemingly dedicated to mass cruelty has raised concerns over the line between conscionable and unconscionable work—always high—to fever pitch, and produced much soul-searching and some very good writing. In a much-discussed book chapter entitled “Should Good People Be Prosecutors?,” Paul Butler concludes that the answer to his own question is no, based largely on the harm that working in a prosecutor’s office can do to one’s personal commitments and soul. A recent Note in Harvard Law Review comes to much the same conclusion, but based on broader, systemic considerations—working for a prosecutor’s office strengthens and legitimizes a wicked system. For both writers, there is no such thing as progressive prosecution, hence most people should avoid a career of putting people in jail. Other scholars, including Abbe Smith, have arrived at much the same conclusion.
The author of this article argues that part of these authors’ critiques stands on an infirm footing, while another is sound. He dispatches the first criticism, then, building on the second, puts forward an even more nuanced way of approaching the choice-of-career problem. The author concludes that, for many people, prosecution should not be a high career choice, although a few hardy souls prepared to live with ambiguity might find it acceptable. His argument is based not on the politics of prosecuting people for a living, nor on the psychological effects of performing such work on a daily basis. Instead, it rests on the nature of the work itself.
Richard Delgado, Should Good People Be Doctors?: A Comment on Paul Butler and Anonymous, 72 SMU L. Rev. F. 1 (2019).
Further Related Reads
- Meghan J. Ryan & John Adams, Cultivating Judgment on the Tools of Wrongful Conviction, 68 SMU L. Rev. 1073 (2015).
- Ronald F. Wright, Beyond Prosecutor Elections, 67 SMU L. Rev. 593 (2014).
- Albert W. Alschuler, Terrible Tools for Prosecutors: Notes on Senator Leahy’s Proposal to Fix Skilling v. United States, 67 SMU L. Rev. 501 (2014).
- Mervyn E. Bennun, Prosecuting Professional Pilots in the United Kingdom after November Oscar: Reflections on the Law and Policy, 61 J. Air L. & Com. 331 (1995).