BY DAVID LYONS
On April 18, 2006, the Harvard Federalist Society honored U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod Rosenstein ’89 with its 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award. In his talk accompanying the recipient of the award, Mr. Rosenstein discussed his vision of his role as a federal prosecutor and how his office handles the day-to-day challenges of law enforcement. Given the expansion of federal law, Mr. Rosenstein stressed that prioritization and strong bonds with state and local officials are essential ingredients to meeting the four main responsibilities of a federal prosecutor: deterrence, safeguarding the money and property of the United States, fostering the public’s confidence in law enforcement, and seeking justice in every case.
To these ends, Mr. Rosenstein’s office has worked to keep the public informed through its blog, a rarity for a U.S. Attorney’s office, and robust public affairs office. Additionally, Mr. Rosenstein has worked diligently with state and local authorities to curb gun violence in Maryland through programs like Maryland Exile, which looks to prosecute gun-related cases that have federal jurisdiction so that these types of crimes do not overburden local officials. Mr. Rosenstein pointed out that these types of programs can have a significant effect in reducing crime because even the threat of criminal prosecution can serve as a significant additional deterrent. Though it is challenging to coordinate the activities of so many different state and federal agencies, Mr. Rosenstein emphasized that the increased leverage provided through cooperation more than offset the burden.
Mr. Rosenstein also discussed differences between academic perspectives on the law and the law in application. To illustrate his point, he discussed how his office was dealing with recent changes in the law, including modifications to the federal sentencing guidelines established by the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Booker. Though there has been a great deal of academic ink spilled on the subject, Mr. Rosenstein maintains that the courts decision has not changed the way cases are prosecuted. He stressed that though the law is in flux, the federal sentencing guidelines called into question by the case are still used by both prosecutors and judges to determine reasonable sentences for various crimes.
In concluding his talk, Mr. Rosenstein returned to a theme that he had highlighted throughout his talk; the importance of intellectual debate and the folly of censoring that debate with political correctness. He stressed that robust discussions about the law and the Constitution are essential in our system of government because, ultimately, good law derives from the character of those creating and enforcing it and the wrong character will lead in the end to the wrong law.