≡ Menu

Rebel of the Year Awards, 2011: Judge Jed Rakoff

The Honorable Judge Jed Rakoff from the Southern District of New York is the first recipient of Rebel Words “Rebel of the Year” award.  A maverick in legal circles, Judge Rakoff is also a beacon of courage for the American public and embodies values that are strongly shared by this site:

  • the freedom and courage to say what needs to be said, “In much of the world, propaganda reigns, and truth is confined to secretive, fearful whispers.”
  • the belief that it is better to try to encourage ideas in others than it is to make money, “The S.E.C., of all agencies, has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges.”

Judge Rakoff has voiced several opinions that have lasting impressions on the United States government and public.  In 2002, Judge Rakoff opined in United States v. Quinones, that the death penalty was unconstitutional, “the best available evidence indicates that, on the one hand, innocent people are sentenced to death with materially greater frequency than was previously supposed and that, on the other hand, convincing proof of their innocence often does not emerge until long after their convictions. It is therefore fully foreseeable that in enforcing the death penalty a meaningful number of innocent people will be executed who otherwise would eventually be able to prove their innocence. It follows that implementation of the Federal Death Penalty Act not only deprives innocent people of a significant opportunity to prove their innocence, and thereby violates procedural due process, but also creates an undue risk of executing innocent people, and thereby violates substantive due process.”

In 2004, Judge Rakoff responded to a request from the Federal Government to not be required to release unredacted transcripts of the Department of Defense‘s Combatant Status Review Tribunals‘ proceedings and related documentation.  Rakoff wryly wrote, “one might well wonder whether the detainees share the view that keeping their identities secret is in their own best interests.”  Rakoff ordered the Department of Defense to release the requested documents.  Rakoff’s order was appealed by the Bush Administration in 2008.

Most recently, Judge Rakoff has shown considerable insight by denying the motion to settle a case between Citibank and the Securities Exchange Commission, stating that the settlement was “neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, nor in the public interest.”  The full text of the ruling states “even in our nation, apologists for suppressing or obscuring the truth may always be found.”

Thank you Judge Rakoff for having the courage and firmness of mind to know when to call others to task.  You are exactly the sort of judge the United States needs more of.

Sub-category Winners:

Music: Sufjan Stevens

Mr. Stevens continues to record and distribute stunningly good and original material (most recently with Age of Adz) without the help of major recording labels.  Ironically, a reason Mr. Stevens is the winner in this category is due to his admission of his own importance: “I don’t really have as much faith in my work as I used to, but I think that’s healthy. I think it’s allowed me to be less precious about how I work and write. And maybe it’s okay for us to take it less seriously.”  A rock star that is not self-aggrandizing?  Winner.

Politics/Business/Journalism: Julian Assange

Julian has done what has been needed to be done to journalism for some time.  He has reminded us that that information is available, regardless of how hard others try to conceal it and that that kind of information is important to the distribution or disruption of power.

Technology: Richard Stallman

Mr. Stallman is unlikely to need an introduction to netizens.  The license that this site’s software uses is to Mr. Stallman’s credit.  Founder of the GNU Project and author of software that many of the web’s servers use, his influence on the machine you’re using to read this is, in some not insignificant way, due to him.

Visual Arts: Ai Weiwei

Ai has endured much for his art and beliefs.  Suffice to say he is forbidden to say too much to reporters, but if you’re a comfortable artist you’re probably not saying something important.