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 and equality.
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 won’t work.
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.