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Reena Raggi
Judge Reena Raggi.jpg
Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Assumed office
August 31, 2018
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
October 4, 2002 – August 31, 2018
Appointed by George W. Bush
Preceded by Amalya Lyle Kearse
Succeeded by vacant
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
In office
May 7, 1987 – October 4, 2002
Appointed by Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Frank X. Altimari
Succeeded by Dora Irizarry
Personal details
Born (1951-05-11) May 11, 1951 (age 67)
Jersey City, New Jersey
Education Wellesley College (B.A.)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)

Reena Andrea Raggi (born May 11, 1951 in Jersey City, New Jersey) is a Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and maintains her chambers in Brooklyn, New York. She was formerly a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • A conversation with the Hon. Judge Reena Raggi
  • Enrique Schaerer—Yale Law School Moot Court Finals
  • Ames Moot Court Competition 2012
  • Ames Moot Court Competition 2004
  • All Rise - Reflections on the Ames Moot Court Competition


MARTHA MINOW: Good afternoon, I'm still Martha Minow. And it is with just utter joy and delight that we welcome back to her alma mater Judge Reena Raggi, who is about to celebrate her 30th year on the bench. Which means that she was appointed when she was 12. So this judge has had the kind of career that we dream of. She has been at the pinnacles of legal work and doing crucial work in private practice as an assistant US attorney, as a district court judge, and as a court of appeals judge as a major player in the designing of rules of our federal system. I am not going to say another word until I actually now turn to you, because we're going to have a conversation. And I am so, so honored to welcome you back. We will be seeing you in action at Ames Moot Court. And anyone who's interested, please come and please join us for that. So you were in the Harvard Law School class of 1976. What led you to go to law school in the first place? REENA RAGGI: Well, I had no lawyers in my family. But I had a father who I think was probably a frustrated lawyer. And who, on another level, really believed in professions for women. He had three daughters. I mean we've all heard dinner table lectures our whole lives about how important it was to have a profession. And I think this was because he thought it would give us independence, and financial security, and that that would be important. And when I look back on it, what I find really remarkable about all this is that you would never have thought of my father as in the vanguard of the women's rights movement, because I never saw him make a bed or wash a dish in his life. But he did have this view for his three daughters, which is how we wound up with two lawyers and a CPA. So I think that it was this idea that you should have a profession, you should be independent, that led me to think about going to law school. I don't think my father ever thought about the independence and security of the federal bench-- [LAUGHTER] It all worked out very well. MARTHA MINOW: I would say. Can you paint a picture of what Harvard Law School was like when you were here? REENA RAGGI: Well, it was probably a very different place from what you are experiencing. I mean, similar in some ways, but different in others. I mean, I was here during what I would call the real Paper Chase era. Where there were wonderful professors, but the opportunities for interactions with students were less than what I think you have. And I speak with some experience in that, because my son went here not that long ago. And I was always so struck by the fact that he had interactions with faculty in a way that I hadn't experienced. And I really think that was too bad, because there were great faculty members here. But it just wasn't part of the culture at that time. So I think that that was the difference. I did think the academic rigor was really there and continues to be there-- again, if I'm going to compare it to my son's experience-- which is really a remarkable and laudable thing. Because I do think it's the legal academy that has maybe shifted a little. The requirements are not as strict as when I was here of what you had to take. But I think that the rigor of the Harvard curriculum is still quite strong. MARTHA MINOW: So David Denton, your son, graduated in 2011. Superstar, superstar. And I am glad that you had his experience to look into. You were here at a time when there weren't that many women. You want to say anything about that? REENA RAGGI: I was trying to figure out what percentage of my class was women. And of course, going back to my memory, I'm going to be unreliable. But I think it was between 25% and 30%. MARTHA MINOW: I think that's high. I think it was maybe 20%. REENA RAGGI: OK, maybe even fewer. For me, it was a real change, because I had gone to a women's college. I had gone to Wellesley. So all of a sudden to be a minority in a group was very obvious to me. But I will say, I've been on panels here at the law school with generations of Harvard women. And it was really the generation before me, maybe even two generations before me, that experienced the real challenges and the real difficulties. Those are the women, whom when I hear them speak, were the trailblazers. I think for my class-- though we were in the minority-- I never experienced a professor or even an employer, a prospective employer, whom I came out of an encounter with and thought, oh. They treated me differently because I was a woman. So I can't say that. To the extent that I ever encountered anyone who questioned why a woman was at the law school-- it was very rarely, very rarely-- but it was classmates. So there was still a little bit of that attitude. MARTHA MINOW: 10 years after you graduated from Harvard Law School you were appointed to become a district judge in the Eastern District of New York by President Ronald Reagan. What was your career path that led to that? REENA RAGGI: Yeah, the career path. Well, it wasn't that untraditional. I was a law clerk. I clerked on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for a wonderful judge. I then went to one of the large New York firms, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and I stayed there for about two years. And I was pretty sure I wanted to do something else. There are people who are really captivated by practicing big firm practice. It's very talented lawyers, very big cases. But I knew after a relatively short while that I wanted something different. So I went to the US attorney's office in the Eastern District of New York, which is Brooklyn. And I do think there are lots of ways to practice law. And you will find that you fit in some of them and you don't fit in others. And I had never tried a case when I went to the US attorney's office, but I did find that I fit. And I enjoyed every minute of the seven, almost eight, years that I spent there. And it was while I was in the US attorney's office that some of the things that led to my judicial appointments started to happen. But I did spend then a brief time in private practice again before going to the bench-- a partner at a firm then called Windels, Marx, Davies, and Ives. They've merged with somebody, so they have a different name now. And I just want to tell you it's a lot better to be a partner than an associate. [LAUGHTER] MARTHA MINOW: Did you find that the work in the narcotics unit where you led, and then the corruption unit, taxed you in different ways than the other work that you had done? REENA RAGGI: Yes. While I was in the US attorney's office, at various times I headed the narcotics unit and I headed the public corruption unit. And the work was very different. Narcotics is quick responses, middle of the night phone calls, agents who want to know whether they can go through the door or whether they need a warrant. So narcotics is the kind of work that, to do it well, you have to be preparing in advance all the time-- reading cases, developing ideas-- because you're going to answer the questions on the fly. By contrast, public corruption work is slow, steady investigation. A lot of grand jury work-- less warrants, less Title III applications-- and so you have to be a good investigator, good at putting the pieces of the puzzles together. And I worked under two US attorneys who really had public corruption as one of their primary aims. But they were also of the view that public corruption cases were high profile cases. You didn't indict unless you were ready to go to trial. And you didn't do it unless you were convinced you could hit the bullseye, you could get a conviction. Because it was just too embarrassing to not succeed in cases that were going to be on the front page of the papers every day. So they were very different experiences and I enjoyed both of them. But I have to say, maybe because I did the narcotics first, and because it was kind of rough and tumble and fast-paced, it has a special place in my heart. MARTHA MINOW: Did you have mentors during that first period, that first decade of your career? REENA RAGGI: Yes. I would say that most people who clerk have a mentor in the judge they clerked for. And I will say now, as a judge, being a mentor to my clerks, I realized that there are certain advantages to it. You're a little removed from the personal lives. So if my law clerk calls me and says, I'm thinking about doing x. What do you think? I can be very objective and have conversations that go, well, on the one hand-- or on the other hand. If my son were to call me with the same question, my reaction would be, typically, maternal. And it would be, you want to do what? So a judge is a great mentor to have, because they know you well. You're working together every day. You get to be so close to your law clerks and your clerk to your judge. I mean, I used Judge Fairchild, the judge I clerked for, as my mentor for years. So that was one. In law firms, It's sometimes harder to find a mentor. And the only advice I can give about that is be open to the unexpected possibility of mentoring. When I was at the law firm, I was assigned to do cases with a labor partner. It was neither the glamorous work of the firm, but it wasn't heavily staffed. And he turned out to be just a wonderful man, both in terms of giving me advice and giving me responsibility. And he really fit the stereotype of a rough and tumble labor lawyer, but he was great. And I would never have expected that or gone looking for a mentor in that area. So there was that. In the US Attorney's office, again, it's an easier place to find mentors because there's a sense in prosecutor's offices of, we're all in this together. One for all, all for one. So you'd be in the office on a weekend and down the hall would be a senior prosecutor who you could slip in and ask advice. And it was more characteristic that people would take you under their wing. So I was lucky at all those stages. MARTHA MINOW: As a district court judge, what did you find most challenging? REENA RAGGI: I think the volume of cases and the pace of the work. When I was a district judge in the Eastern District-- I was a district judge for 15 years-- on average we would carry about 400 civil cases and 100 criminal cases. Now, some of them you would never see. I mean, the case would be filed, the parties would settle, and that would be the end of it. So I don't want you to think I was daily involved in 400 cases. Still, 400 cases is a lot of cases to keep moving. And you have to do that because 400 can turn into 500 to 550. And if you let that happen to your docket, you don't have the time to think about the case that all of a sudden comes to light and needs real attention and careful thinking. So you're on the one hand always struggling to keep your docket under control, and yet finding the time to give attention to the ones that are rising at a particular moment. And then the diversity is the other challenge. It's both the challenge and the thing that I think keeps all my octogenarian and any of the nonagenarian judges so engaged for so much of their lives. I mean, we'd jump around between a labor law case and an employment discrimination case and a securities case and a diversity automobile accident, and all the federal criminal cases that can come your way from narcotics to public corruption. I remember trying my first maritime case, which has a very specialized bar. I had no clue what I was doing. So it was always-- like the image of the teacher who tries to stay a day or a week ahead of students. That's what I was doing. I remember trying my first patent case and thinking that we had done a very good job. It was a patent case tried to a jury-- not all of them, in fact few of them, are tried to a jury-- and the verdict came back and it seemed to be inconsistent. What to do, what to do. So the challenges of the diversity of the docket are many. MARTHA MINOW: From your work as a prosecutor, you had done a lot with facts. But in law school, we don't do enough with facts. Can you say something about that? REENA RAGGI: Yeah. We talked earlier this week about what makes a good litigator, and maybe we'll talk more about that, but you have to like facts. I understand Judge Gorsuch yesterday said something in his hearings, and it's not original with him, about every lawsuit is a story. And that's true. You really realize that at the district court level, because the parties are often in front of you. So you have the sense of human beings actually involved in a case, not just the abstract principle that I sometimes deal with in the court of appeals. But you have to like facts. You have to be willing to investigate facts. You have to learn how to put them together and tell them to another person-- either the judge or the jury-- in a way that makes sense. In a way that is convincing for the side you're arguing. You have to characterize facts fairly. But I sometimes used to think that if you hadn't won the case by the time you told facts, you weren't going to win it. So I do think that facts are tremendously important. And yet you're right, it's not part of the law school curriculum, because you're teaching other things. But it becomes very important in practice. MARTHA MINOW: As a district court judge, you had some of the most high profile cases of the era. And I'll mention one or two and maybe you're willing to talk about them. One was the Golden Venture series of prosecutions that arose from a failed effort to smuggle Chinese immigrants to New York. Can you describe that? REENA RAGGI: Yeah. The Golden Venture was the name of the ship. And it was a case that no one saw coming. Because at dawn one morning, the Golden Venture crashed onto a area off of Queens, the New York Harbor. And the people on the ship were ordered into the water to swim to shore, they were still several miles from shore at the time, and 10 people died in the project. And by the time law enforcement, and rescuers, and everyone else was on the scene, you didn't know who were the refugees and who were the perpetrators. All of the ship's documents were in the water, soaking wet, and so what to do with this matter. And it really operated on lots of levels. I mean first there were the refugees, all of whom were taken into various federal facilities, and there are stories about them that have been written, but I wound up with the criminal case. And I will say this about the prosecution, over about the next five to six years, they investigated that case right up and down the line. And they managed to prosecute, not only the people on the ship who were involved, but higher-level people. People who they got extradited from Thailand and other parts of the world who were the financiers. Who were the real people behind it. So they deserve a lot of credit for that. And I say that at the outset, because the first group of people they prosecuted, people from the ships-- who they really didn't have great evidence on-- they cut deals with. And they cut what were then called 11 (e)(1)(C) pleas-- I think there now 11 (C)(1)(e)-- where the government agrees to a sentence. And the sentences they agreed to were between six months and a year. And I wouldn't take the deal, because it seemed to me that with 10 people dead that was trivializing the crime. Now, I was very reluctant to do that. Having been a prosecutor myself, I try not to second-guess the government on what they charge, how they prosecute their cases, because they have the burden of proof. And they know where the problems are and whether a deal is better than risking an acquittal, OK. But I did think this was one I couldn't take. And so that was one of the first things that was notorious about the case. But in the end, the defendants all pleaded guilty without agreements. The other thing that was interesting about the case was that I saw the ship. And the way I saw the ship was that the government wanted to sell it-- this is before we went to any trials-- because apparently nothing is more expensive to maintain than a ship. The defense attorneys, and there were probably about eight or nine of them at that point, opposed it. And the basis for their opposition was, well, they might want a jury to have a viewing of the ship. And I was saying, what do you need that for? I'll authorize money for a videographer, you can photograph it every which way. No judge, we might want a jury to see the ship. So my law clerk and I, the defense attorneys, the prosecutor, all tied on our sneakers and went out to a pier in Staten Island and saw the ship. And I really wonder if the defense attorneys came to regret that, because it was horrible. It was just horrible. It was one big hold, no sanitation facilities, that these people-- about 300 people-- were in for a voyage from Asia, across the Indian Ocean, around Africa, to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It was terrible. I always say that it's probably as close as I will ever experience to what a slave ship must have been like. And so I can't imagine that they really would have wanted the jury to see it. MARTHA MINOW: Wow, wow. Another amazing case you had, this was before 9/11, you had an early case in which a defendant took the stand and said that he planned to put a pipe bomb in the subway system. REENA RAGGI: Yes. I had a case, United States v. Ghazi Abu Mezer, who was a young Palestinian who had built pipe bombs and planned to detonate them on the New York City subway. How he was caught was that someone who lived in the same apartment complex, and knew he was up to this, couldn't live with that fact-- another fellow Palestinian-- and tried to get a New York City police officer to understand what was going to happen. Now, imagine this. Someone walks up to a New York City police officer and says, I've got-- guy down the hall who's detonating bombs. What does the police officer do? Could the guy just be having a grudge against somebody, what do you do. So instantaneously they tried to evaluate whether they believed him or not. And eventually got a state warrant, went in-- the SWAT team, the whole thing-- and sure enough, there were bombs that he was ready to detonate at that moment. They shot him in the course of this. So I wind up with the case. And he was a very challenging defendant. He was the only defendant I ever had who had objectives other than acquittal. I mean, his trial was making a political statement, not getting acquitted. And that's a mindset I had never encountered before. MARTHA MINOW: Wanted to use the courtroom as a theater. REENA RAGGI: Yeah. He had two defense attorneys from federal defenders who, out of this set of facts, managed to come up with a theory under which he would be acquitted. And they did a marvelous job. And then he insisted on taking the stand. And they put on the record that it was against his advisal, but you know it's the defendant's absolute right to take the stand. And he took the stand and not only did he say that he had built the bombs, but he said that he built them in order to kill as many Jews as possible. So you can see that he had no interest in acquittal. But that was what happened. When it was all over, I sentenced him to life imprisonment. But it was all pre-9/11, and I can't emphasize enough for you the mindset change for everybody pre-9/11 and post-9/11. For me, the other thing that was new and interesting from it was I had never seen a case done by the FBI terrorist squad at that point. Though 9/11 hadn't happened, the first bombing of the World Trade Center had. And so the New York FBI office had a very sophisticated terrorist squad. Now, I'd been in law enforcement. I had never seen a case investigated as thoroughly. But you need resources to do that and they devoted them to that kind of case. When I say how it was done, they had tracked this defendant-- and he had a co-defendant, too-- down to North Carolina. They found him on the surveillance camera of like, a Walmart. And they took the time that he was on that surveillance camera, and they took all the cash register receipts from that time, and they found purchases for the component parts of the bomb. Now, I tell you that, but doing all that took an amazing amount of time. I mean, there was some poor young FBI agent going through cash register receipts, OK. There were FBI agents checking the videotapes of probably every big store in that area. So it was very interesting to me to see a case done that thoroughly, because they usually don't have the manpower. MARTHA MINOW: Sure, amazing. Another notorious case you tried was Schwarz that dealt with the police officer following the assault of the Haitian immigrant Louima. What was that like? You must have dealt with media and all kinds of issues. REENA RAGGI: Well, I should say that I was not the first judge to have that case. One of my now deceased colleagues, Eugene Nickerson, who was an absolutely inspiring trial judge, had the case the first go-around. A group of New York City police officers were responding to calls of disturbance at a nightclub. Somebody threw a punch or assaulted a police officer. They mistakenly thought it was Abner Louima, this Haitian immigrant, and they arrested him. And that much of the story might be understandable. But when they got him back to the police station he was physically, sexually assaulted. And I think it will give you an idea of what happened if I tell you that he was on the operating room table for six hours. Judge Nickerson tried the case, there were convictions, but it was vacated and remanded by the court of appeals because there were problems of conflict of interest with the lawyers. So Judge Nickerson passes away and now the case comes to me. And I wind up trying it and we got a split verdict on it. It was a very challenging case. I mean, nobody had actually seen the assault done. But the thing that I recall from that, it was a high-profile case. It was on the front pages of the papers every day. I would have police officers supporters on one side of the case. I had Al Sharpton, if you know who Al Sharpton is, on the other side there every day. I had members of the press. I had an anonymous jury. Picking the jury was very difficult. I mean, I needed to know that people could put aside biases, both pro and con, certain things. For instance, I had to ask African American jurors if, for any reason they thought the evidence was insufficient, they could vote to acquit and did they think it would give them problems returning to their communities. I had to ask people who had police connections variations on those questions. So picking the jury was a challenge. But in the end, how it all resolved was Schwarz was convicted of perjury, not of the civil rights violation. And I was convinced that the perjury was because he was a participant in the civil rights violation. I couldn't sentence him to anything other than the perjury, or for anything more than the maximum for perjury, but I did sentence him to five year maximum for perjury. MARTHA MINOW: What is an anonymous jury, and how do you do it? REENA RAGGI: In certain cases, where one thinks that the jury could be compromised to some extent on very specific findings, you cannot have the jury disclose their names or their address, where they live. To do that though-- in addition to the findings you have to make preliminary to why you need it-- you have to give the defense more information in other areas about that jury so that they can make responsible challenge decisions. So they wouldn't know that your name was John Smith and that you lived at a particular address. But they might know that you came from Queens, because maybe some people would think that people from Queens have different attitudes than people from Brooklyn. These are conclusions we draw about people. You would get to know that they were employed and probably how they were employed. You'd get to know what their spouse did and their children. And questions that I don't necessarily ask every juror, but questions about where do you get your news from, other things that might be relevant to the particular biases or leanings in the case. You often see anonymous juries in cases of organized crime, violent crime, because there's a concern that the jury might be afraid. I think in Schwartz it was more a concern about publicity and people-- the press-- maybe hounding the jury or something like that. The other thing often that happens with anonymous juries is they don't come to court on their own. The marshals usually pick them up. That's great, because everybody's on time. [LAUGHTER] MARTHA MINOW: Well, I was just going to ask you, are there any lighthearted moments on the bench? Because this is pretty serious stuff. MARTHA MINOW: Yeah I mean, because the courts deal with all kinds of human disputes, there's tragedy, there's enormous sadness, but there's sometimes the human comedy. And the incident that I always remember as being particularly funny was I was taking a guilty plea from a defendant. And if any of you have ever seen a guilty plea, there's a litany that a judge has to go through with the defendant ensuring that he understands his constitutional rights. Also, making sure he's competent to plead. So I get to the point in the allocution where I ask him, have you taken any drugs, pills, or medicines in the last 24 hours? And he looks at me and he says, no, sweetheart. Now, three things happened instantaneously. His lawyer's elbow went into the guy's rib. My courtroom deputy, who was on a swivel chair, falls off it. And the court reporter looks up at me and mouths, Judge, do you want me to take that down? Now, sometimes I've told a story and people have thought oh, how outrageous. The guy called you sweetheart. Listen, if you're looking at the person who's going to put you in the slammer for 20 years, there are worse things they could call you than sweetheart. But I told this story to some of my colleagues shortly after it happened. I sat on the district court in Brooklyn with the great Jack Weinstein, one of the, if not the, greatest trial judge in the country. And Judge Weinstein looks at me and says, he must not be quite right. You should send him for an observation and study. Which is what we get with people who are not quite competent. Well, that was one piece of Judge Weinstein's advice that I didn't follow, because I could see the tabloid headline. "He calls her sweetheart, she calls him nuts." [LAUGHTER] MARTHA MINOW: Amazing. Well, in 2002, after 15 years as a district court judge, you were elevated, you were nominated, to the Second Circuit by President George W. Bush. And you were confirmed, obviously. And how did that nomination process-- how did you experience it? Do you think it's changed since that time? REENA RAGGI: Well, I'm not sure how much it's changed from when I was on the court of appeals to now. But the process had changed between when I was on the district court and when I went on the court of appeals. And history has something to do with this. I went on the district court before the nomination of Judge Bork to the Supreme Court. And I think that a lot of things changed politically after that. And we're seeing it played out now where each side ups the ante with each nomination. And while the Supreme Court nominations are in a class by themselves, at the appellate court you can also sometimes have those fights happen. I was fortunate that I was not one of the people who became controversial. And I think there's a certain luck in that, because I am of the view that the battle can be fought on almost anybody's carcass if you want to. The two things that I think helped me-- or three things, I guess. One was that the nominee immediately before me-- she had a confirmation hearings immediately before me-- was quite controversial. So people spent hours on hers and maybe were exhausted by the time they got to me. I will also say I had the good fortune to have my confirmation hearings the day in August that the Senate was scheduled to adjourn. So the bags were packed and people were ready to go. No one was looking to hang around. And then the other thing that was very fortunate was that, though I was nominated by a Republican president, my two state senators at the time were Democrats. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton. And they both supported the nomination. And you've read and heard about, the Senate is a club, and senators, even when they quarrel on some things, are deferential to others. So if you have the support of your senators that helps. And Senator Clinton came and just said a few words, but Senator Schumer was actually on the Judiciary Committee and he really said a lot of nice things. Though I had never met either of them both beforehand. But I always think that was wonderful, because my mother was there. And she actually believed to them. She actually believed them. The nice things that were said. MARTHA MINOW: That's fabulous. So you've now been, of course, on the appellate court for some time, but-- must have been an adjustment. What stand out as the big changes? REENA RAGGI: Yeah. I did 15 years on the district court and now it's 15 years on the circuit court. It's an exact-- equal time on both. I didn't think there would be that many adjustments going to the court of appeals. And I'd been a judge for 15 years and had occasionally sat by designation on the court of appeals. But there were, because district court's judges decide for themselves. Circuit court decision making is all collegial. And collegial decision making requires you to get at least one, ideally two people to view things the same way you do. And it was very interesting to me how different judges can approach a problem differently, even when they come to the same result. And so I do think, by the way, that enriches the decision in the end. But sometimes to get there requires a little compromising, and I even say sausage making, which, as we all know, is not a pretty sight. So it took a while to adjust to that. The other thing that I thought was a big difference was in the district court, you live with a case. You sometimes live with it for a year. In the circuit, we're into the case and we're out of the case. I mean, I am sitting this week-- in addition to being on the Ames panel-- and I have 27 appeals that are being heard. And so right now I am on top of all of those. But I sit again in about five, six weeks time, and if you ask me on the eve of that sitting questions about this sitting, a lot of it will have gone out of my head. And so I think that there's sometimes a sense that maybe you don't know the case as well as I felt I knew my district court cases. And also, unless you're writing the opinion, they don't stick with you as long. MARTHA MINOW: That makes sense. Your very first case on the court of appeals was in bank. And that's unusual, because your court does not take as many in bank cases as some courts do. So what was that like? And you also wrote a concurring opinion. Which was pretty gutsy thing to do as a brand-new judge, not going along entirely with the majority. So you could describe all this. REENA RAGGI: Right. It was very interesting never to have sat on a panel of three, but for the first time to sit on a panel of-- at that point we were 12. And the case was the United States v. Rybicki. So the question in it concerned a fraud conviction for honest services. Fraud-- often this rises in the political context, though this was more lawyers involved in committing fraud in various ways. And that was a pretty controversial subject about whether the wire and mail fraud statutes were too vague to encompass this notion of the fraud being not about money, but about obligations to give honest services. And so it wasn't surprising that the Second Circuit decided to wrestle with it en banc. But as you said, we hardly ever go en banc. We go en banc maybe once every two years. But having dealt with a lot of criminal cases and all that, I had some views about the question of fraud. Having come from the Eastern District, which had done so many corruption cases, I had some views on how the statutes could permissibly be used to deal with public corruption cases. I was almost concerned that we not write so broadly in limiting the use of the statute that we-- in the lawyer context-- that it also limit prosecutions for public corruption. So that's how it all came about. Now, the Supreme Court has dealt with the issue, so it's not as significant. But it was fun to tackle that case. MARTHA MINOW: I do want to give time for others to ask questions, but I have three more that I want to ask. And so one is about your role in the rules drafting process. You've had quite a significant role on various committees for the Judicial Conference. You chaired the advisory committee of the rules of criminal procedure. And rule-making is not really what we usually think judges do. And this is a very significant part of what you've been doing and in particular, in criminal law, such challenges about criminal procedure. Can you tell us about that work, and is it a different process of negotiation, and how do you assess systemic issues? REENA RAGGI: Right. You know that the rules of civil procedure, criminal procedure, appellate procedure, evidence, and bankruptcy, originate with the judiciary itself. I mean, the process ultimately goes to the Supreme Court and to Congress, but Congress has to say the rule doesn't go into effect for it not to. So the rules you're dealing with, in your classes and all, are created by the judiciary. And so there are committees that deal with these. And on the Criminal Rules Committee, which I'll use as the example, the voting members of the committee, the majority of them are judges. But we also have a voting member from the Department of Justice. We have three voting members who are from the defense bar. We have an academic voting member. And the issues come to us in a variety of ways. I mean, because the Department of Justice is involved in every criminal case, they are frequently bringing matters where the current rules don't seem to fit to the committee. Professors who've written innovative law review articles sometimes will send us a copy, because what could be better for a young associate professor then to have his or her idea turned into a rule? And then, as I used to put it, anybody with a number two pencil and the back of an envelope can send us an idea. And those get reviewed. And it's more like a legislative process than a judicial process, because we are writing language. We're writing legislation, in a way. We move very slowly. Maybe that's also like legislation. I would say from an idea to effect, two years would be a fast track. So there's quite amount of vetting and all that. I am someone who does not think we should tinker with the rules too often. You put people on committees, they feel they have to achieve something. But my view is that there's something to be said for stability in the rules. And so we shouldn't just look to, well, how can we improve something a little bit. But during my years on the committee, the things that I think required the most careful thought, and that is really part of the revolution in criminal law in general, is how the commission of crimes electronically alters all kinds of assumptions we have, about the Fourth Amendment especially. But also other protections and rights. I mean, you see this in your classes. You know that the Supreme Court has said that if you take somebody's cell phone from them in the course of an arrest, if you've tracked them by a GPS device, you need more than historically what you needed when you arrested somebody and took every card out of their wallet. Or when you visually surveil somebody, the police officer's in the car following them around. Well, those things apply to the federal rules, too. And I'll just give you one example. Until last year, the federal rules provided that if you wanted a search warrant, the venue for getting that warrant was the location where the place to be searched was. Where's the place to be searched when, tomorrow morning, the New York Stock Exchange is hacked and no one knows where the hacking is coming from? But federal agents tell us that if they can get into the Stock Exchange's computers, they can work backwards and try and find out where the hack is coming from. So we had to decide. Where was a venue for those kind of warrants? And actually, if you think about it, it's a small question. We're not saying you don't need probable cause, we're not saying you don't need particularity, we're just telling you what courthouse to go to. So we decided it was-- in those circumstances, it would be the courthouse where the harm is occurring. Which I hope I've told in a way that doesn't make it sound like that was outrageous. But I think the times we're in make everybody very wary of government intrusion into computers and electronic devices. So when we held public hearings on what I consider to be a relatively modest rule change, we must have had 20 different groups from idiosyncratic views to the ACLU to major computer companies come and tell us why they thought this rule was a bad idea. That it was the camel's nose under the tent and we should think hard about it. And I will say the only thing that I think was good about it-- the rule went into effect anyway-- but it really shows why public hearings are good. I let everybody speak for as long as they wanted to, and we asked questions, and a number of the participants who were opponents told me at the end that they appreciated getting a thoughtful hearing. They thought that we had really listened to them. And we didn't do a few tweaks to deal with particular concerns, but that's part of the rule-making process. MARTHA MINOW: Really different side of your work. REENA RAGGI: Yeah. MARTHA MINOW: OK, just two more. You mentioned-- we did talk before about litigators. And I just wondered if you could say something about whether people can be effective litigators if they're not extroverts. REENA RAGGI: Yes, I think so. But you may have to find a little extrovert in yourself for the moment in court. I don't think you necessarily have to be that in every moment of your life. And I will also say that I don't think there's only one way to be an effective litigator. So you definitely want to see good litigators and try on some of what they do and see if it fits you. But you don't have to think I have to be exactly like someone else to be effective. MARTHA MINOW: That's perfect. And my last one-- so think of your questions-- is advice. Advice for students, for people, who might be interested in being litigators, in being a judge, in being a law clerk. REENA RAGGI: Let me start with law clerk, because that's the easiest one for me to talk about. At least, if you want a clerk on the federal courts, you need really good grades. I mean, the process is extremely competitive. I probably get about 400 applications. And so you have to be at the top of your class. I sometimes say it's a good thing in my chambers that I have the judge position, because I couldn't get hired as my law clerk, but that's a little facetious. So you need to have succeeded in law school academically. I also think that most clerkships, even at the district court, most of what you're going to be doing are research and writing. So you need to do things that can show the judge that you're going to be strong in those areas, whether it's journal work, or moot court, or what. I often say that I'm looking to see that you've written in something where-- I don't care what you write about and I'm not even sure I care what conclusion you come to. But I like to see that you tried to take a tough legal question and wrestle it to the ground, because we do that all the time. And then I would say that the other piece of advice I give-- because I don't see everybody who applies for clerkships doing this-- is you really should take diverse courses in law school. Now, I understand, and even respect, that someone could come to law school and say, my passion is environmental law. I'm going to take every class that's offered in that area, or the same with criminal law, or whatever. But that's not my docket. So I need to know what you're going to do when we get that really complex securities case, or patent case, or something. I don't need all four of my law clerks to have taken all these subjects. But I'm very conscious of a quartet that can cover the docket. I also would give this advice because, quite apart from my selfish ideas for why I need to cover my docket, it will make you a better lawyer to take diverse classes. You're a better lawyer if you can analogize across areas of law. So when I was here, even though I didn't have particular interests in the area, I and, I think, almost everybody of my generation, took securities, and antitrust, and tax, and all the commercial courses whether or not you were going to practice in that area. And I do think that if you think about a lot of areas of law-- criminal law, even human rights law-- you are often going to face adversaries who have a corporate identity. And so you better understand how they operate. So I would just urge you to study across the curriculum and take courses that are hard to teach yourself. So that's my advice for law clerks. MARTHA MINOW: That's great. And for being litigator or being a judge? REENA RAGGI: For being a litigator, litigation is all about persuasion, OK. You have to persuade either a judge or a jury to do something you want. So the first thing you have to understand is that you need something from them. You need either a verdict, or a ruling, or something. It's your job to identify with them, not their job to identify with you. And I think that means you have to think hard about how to talk to various groups. I mean, you talk to a jury one way, you talk to a trial judge one way, you talk to an appellate court another way. I don't mean to suggest that any of it is patronizing, far from it. But you have to think about what will persuade this person or this group of people. I never like to hear lawyers say, oh that judge is so stupid, especially if they're talking about me. But the problem is not that the judge didn't see the point. The problem is you didn't make the judge see the point. And you have to go into it with that attitude, OK. Now, apart from that, you have to be a first-class lawyer. You have to stay on top of legal developments in your areas and beyond. You can't think that you'll research something when you have the case, so I tell even litigators you're reading all the time, you're thinking all the time. You have to like facts. We've already talked about that a little bit. And you have to have a certain feel for people. Because some of the story you'll tell-- but especially if you're a trial lawyer-- some of the story your witnesses are going to have to tell. So you have to learn how to get witnesses to tell the story. Sometimes these people are scared or nervous. I mean, it doesn't even have to be scared of physical things. They're nervous. If any of you have ever been a witness you understand that. Sometimes they can have muddy thinking. Believe me, a witness after 3 o'clock on the stand is dangerous, because they're starting to get tired. You have to help them be prepared for that kind of thing. So I could talk a lot about how you prepare witnesses. And finally, you have to be brutally honest about yourself, about your strengths and your weaknesses. You have to emphasize the former and minimize the latter. When I was trying cases, I was a young woman. And I had to understand that that would have an impact. Maybe some jurors wouldn't think that I was as experienced or as capable as an older colleague. How do you deal with that? You walk into the courtroom super organized. You come across as extremely professional. I Used to say, when I was on trial, my office looked like who did it and ran, but my trial cart was really well organized. And you have to accept the positive things, that a young lawyer is less likely to be suspected of sharp practices than maybe some older more seasoned lawyer. So my main point is don't ignore your strengths and your weaknesses. I will say, if you ever have the opportunity to participate in a trial practice program where they videotape you, take it. Because I can tell you things about yourself for hours and it will be evident to you in an instant if you see yourself on videotape. MARTHA MINOW: It's really true. This is wonderful. Is there a question, comment, somebody want to identify yourself with a question? Because I could go on. Yes, please say who you are. CHRIS: Hi, judge. My name is Chris. Thank you so much for coming. REENA RAGGI: Thank you. AUDIENCE: I was hoping that you could talk about-- in your 30 years on the bench, both at the trial court level and the appellate court level-- if there are things you see about the federal judiciary in terms of how it operates or how it relates to the other branches of government, or to society, that you would like to see changed. Like, bigger, or I guess, grander reforms. I know, for example, Judge Posner has written a number of books and articles about the complexification of the federal docket, things that he would like to see changed about the structure of how the federal judiciary operates. I was just wondering if you had any observations in that regard? REENA RAGGI: Yeah. Let me start with a positive observation about the judiciary. As we become a more complex society, and that includes our regulatory agencies-- I don't know if any of you have ever had to deal with a regulatory agency-- I find it pretty impressive that for a modest filing fee, or no filing fee if you can't afford it, you can get a judge to listen to you. It may not be for long, but you can get a judge to listen to you for a little while. And I think that's really a good thing about the system. I mean, some people are concerned that as the judiciary gets larger, which is a function of Congress giving us more responsibilities, that our rulings are not as uniform. I mean, for a long time, there were members of the judiciary who resisted growing above the 1,000 judges total nationwide because of the view that, when circuit panels don't involve the same judges all the time, they're apt to speak with more fractured voices than if a handful of judges are deciding most appeals. But I mean, what is the alternative to not having these disputes come into federal court? Where would we channel them? Because the other side of the debate is sometimes that lots of cases are going to alternative dispute resolutions. They're going to arbitration. They're going to-- other mechanisms. Is that a good thing? I am not sure that it's a good thing that we don't think our judiciary can give us speedy enough, sure enough, answers to our disputes that we're looking for alternatives. I think it's better if it is within the judiciary. I don't have any of the grand schemes for reform that Judge Posner urges. I think that, certainly, we need to be self-critical and always, always look to how we can do things better. But by and large, I think the judiciary does a pretty good job. MARTHA MINOW: Well, I think you've done an amazing job. And please join me in thanking Judge Raggi. REENA RAGGI: And let me thank you, dean. I mean, this has been such a treat to come here today, and to be part of the celebration. It's really wonderful. Thank you so much. MARTHA MINOW: So honored. Wonderful, wonderful, thank you.


Education and background

Raggi earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College in 1973, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She later earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School, where she served as a member of the Board of Student Advisers, graduating cum laude in 1976. Following her graduation from law school in 1976, she served for a year as a law clerk for Judge Thomas E. Fairchild of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

She was admitted to the bar in New York, and joined the Manhattan law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel until her appointment as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York in 1979, serving in that capacity until her appointment in 1986 as Interim U.S. Attorney. Later that year, she returned to private law practice at the New York law firm of Windels, Marx, Davies, and Ives.

Federal judicial service

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the federal bench as a United States District Judge in the Eastern District of New York. She was the first woman to serve on the 14-member bench in the Eastern District of New York and, at 35 years old, one of the youngest Federal judges in the nation. Among the trials she presided over was one concerning the Golden Venture, a ship carrying around 300 would-be immigrants from China, which crashed-landed on a sandbar off Queens, New York in June, 1993.

President George W. Bush nominated Raggi for the Second Circuit on May 1, 2002 to replace Judge Amalya Lyle Kearse, who assumed senior status. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 20, 2002 by a vote of 85-0.[1] She assumed senior status on August 31, 2018.

She is known for aggressive questioning of lawyers from the bench.[2]


  1. ^ "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 107th  Congress - 2nd  Session".
  2. ^ George James (April 23, 1986). "Woman In The News; Aggressive Prosecutor: Reena Andrea Raggi". The New York Times. Retrieved July 27, 2015.

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Frank X. Altimari
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
Succeeded by
Dora Irizarry
Preceded by
Amalya Lyle Kearse
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
This page was last edited on 23 October 2018, at 19:29
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