One of the few positive aspects of the tragic case of Aaron Swartz is that it has led to an almost unprecedented level of scrutiny of the office of US attorney. Despite its immense power, this office operates with little, if any, accountability to the public for its actions. Part of the scrutiny ought to include the political role of the US attorney, both as a regulator of state politics — through anticorruption prosecutions — and as a potential participant in state politics — as a candidate for high office.
In the Swartz case, for example, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s efforts to defend her actions are impeded by the perception that they were politically motivated. I think this criticism is unfair, but the present system encourages it.
Any number of changes could be considered. Might the president, for example, require that a nominee for the post refrain from political activity for two years upon leaving it? Many such proposals would raise constitutional and other issues, but we ought to take advantage of the current teachable moment to debate them.
The writer is a professor at Boston College Law School.