By contrast, the appearance of corruption signals that the system is rigged. Once that perception takes hold, decisions have no integrity. In the justice system, integrity is not an outcome that seems plausible under the relevant laws and precedents. Integrity is a public perception that the outcome, right or wrong, is dispassionate. It is our collective confidence that justice is blind, that everyone gets equal protection of the law.

If your spouse were the subject of a major, high-stakes criminal investigation, do you suppose you would get a meeting with Loretta Lynch?

Is it possible that, in an individual case, a compromised attorney general could defy any corrupting incentives she has created and make a fair, well-reasoned decision? Of course it is. But that is irrelevant. The standard does not call for disregarding corrupt influences; it requires an attorney general to avoid courting such influences in the first place — to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Simply stated, the perception of injustice becomes the reality of injustice. We avoid the erosion of the rule of law and the downward spiral toward systemic corruption by barring bad optics. If we don’t even let it look bad, chances are it won’t be bad.