By the one-time federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, an important overview of the way our justice system works, and why the rule of law is essential to our society. Using case histories, personal experiences and his own inviting writing and teaching style, Preet Bharara in his new book, “Doing Justice” shows the thought process we need to best achieve truth and justice in our daily lives and within our society.
Preet Bharara has spent much of his life examining our legal system, pushing to make it better, and prosecuting those looking to subvert it. Bharara believes in our system and knows it must be protected, but to do so, we must also acknowledge and allow for flaws in the system and in human nature.
The book is divided into four sections: Inquiry, Accusation, Judgment and Punishment. He shows why each step of this process is crucial to the legal system, but he also shows how we all need to think about each stage of the process to achieve truth and justice in our daily lives.
Bharara uses anecdotes and case histories from his legal career–the successes as well as the failures–to illustrate the realities of the legal system, and the consequences of taking action (and in some cases, not taking action, which can be just as essential when trying to achieve a just result).
Much of what Bharara discusses is inspiring–it gives us hope that rational and objective fact-based thinking, combined with compassion, can truly lead us on a path toward truth and justice. Some of what he writes about will be controversial and cause much discussion. Ultimately, it is a thought-provoking, entertaining book about the need to find the humanity in our legal system–and in our society.
Preet Bharara first became well-known for his efforts to curb Wall Street corruption as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. But it was only after he forced President Trump to fire him that he became a rock star. He was dismissed in March 2017 when he refused to provide his resignation, following an about-face by a new Trump administration that had previously asked him to stay on as U.S. attorney.
In his new book, “Doing Justice,” Bharara does not write explicitly about his conversations with Trump. But the president’s shadow hangs over the book, even when Bharara declines to use his name. “It was all a giant, gold-plated charade,” Bharara writes of one fraud defendant – a sentence that can’t help but conjure up visions of Trump Tower.
Bharara positions “Doing Justice” as a treatise on “the rule of law and faith in the rule of law” at a time when both are under threat. The contrast with Trump, and his contempt for the rule of law, is inevitable. Beyond simply rebutting the president, though, Bharara seeks to present the justice system Trump disdains as a source of inspiration for a healthier politics. His reflection on the role of the justice system in America is an effort both to make the inner workings of that system accessible to people unfamiliar with what criminal justice looks like from the perspective of law enforcement, and to suggest how people might apply ideals and habits honed in the courtroom to the patterns of everyday life.
The Southern District of New York has a reputation for thinking highly of itself, which Bharara cheerfully acknowledges and does nothing to dispel. The justice system, as he describes it, rests on discretion, but the nature of the world is such that some discretion will be abused, and even good-faith attempts to do the right thing will sometimes end poorly. “Every element of the law is dependent on the fateful choices of unpredictable and imperfect human beings,” he writes, “from the cops to the lawyers to the judges to the cooperators. It is the human factor that makes the attempt to deliver justice uncertain.”
Bharara wrote “Doing Justice” in part to “help people make sense of what has been happening in America,” he writes in the preface. Nowhere is this clearer than in his description of the criminal trial as a counterintuitive model for how to “search for truth and justice in our society as well”: Trials, he argues, “are object lessons in persuasion, truth, and even civility.”
“Doing Justice” does its best to communicate what Bharara sees as the fundamental good faith of many law enforcement officials. The real interest and innovation of the book, though, is in Bharara’s effort to offer that model of engagement with the world as a political theory for his fellow citizens.