Adam Liptak, New York Times

It used to be common for the federal government to prosecute prominent people responsible for debacles that rattled the financial system. Michael R. Milken, the junk bond artist, went to prison in 1991; Charles H. Keating Jr., the face of the savings-and-loan crisis, pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud in 1999; and it looks like Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, will be in prison until 2017.

And what of the recent financial crisis? The statute of limitations on most plausible charges is running out, and it seems there will not be a single prosecution of a prominent figure in the entire mess.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff wants to know why. In a blistering essay in the issue of The New York Review of Books that arrives this week, he argues that the Justice Department has failed in its rudimentary responsibilities, offering excuses instead of action.

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