The things you stumble across with a poorly-calibrated Google search… The Courthouse News Service, which reports and comments on civil litigation in the USA, reported on 30th April that “A former customs officer convicted for employing an illegal immigrant as a maid can get a new trial, a federal judge ruled, saying it was ‘overkill’ for the government to pursue felony prosecution instead of administrative sanctions.” (http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/04/30/46091.htm). Why is this worth mentioning on a Classics blog, whose terms of reference may be nebulous and highly subjective but are not entirely non-existent? Because U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock joins the long list of people who think that quoting bits of Thucydides (or alleged Thucydides) makes their argument better:
“I am satisfied there is no question that those instructions were erroneous because they were too open textured and did not require the jury to find substantiality to any encouragement or inducement,” Woodlock said Wednesday, relying on 3rd Circuit precedent.
“With proper instruction, the jury could readily have found that Bitencourt or an illegal alien in her position would have resided in the United States irrespective of Henderson’s employment and advice, and that Henderson’s employment or advice did not make it more likely that she would continue to reside in the United States,” he added.
Quoting ancient Greek historian Thucydides, Woodlock said, “Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.”
Prosecutors must re-examine their motives, he added.
“The lessons of proportionate restraint while pursuing measured judgment, in the face of unreasoning outrage, require careful calibration of the level of culpability for modest misconduct,” the decision states. “These are lessons often difficult to accept, master, and deliver. Their application begins in the criminal context with the prosecutor’s charging decision and, if necessary, end with such judgment as the courts are permitted to exercise. In the absence of some greater exercise of restraint by the prosecution in this case, it is necessary to conduct a new trial to assure proper judgment by the court.”
I am putting the final touches to an article on the quotation and misquotation of Thucydides, including this classic line – depending on whether any journals take the bait, I hope this will appear in the next year or so – but I’m not going to be discussing this particular example at any length. It is worth stressing that in his written judgement, Woodlock states expressly that the line is ‘attributed’ to Thucydides and almost certainly apocryphal – but he uses it anyway. Clearly, as with many dubious quotations, the idea is too useful and powerful to be discarded simply because its origins are somewhat obscure, and it is scarcely going to hurt its persuasive power if it’s attached to an authoritative figure like Thucydides. I’ve come across a few examples of Thucydides being quoted by lawyers in the US, and find myself wondering whether there’s a special handbook of useful lines, or one influential figure in legal tradition who quoted Thucydides a lot, or whether they just imitate one another the whole time…