In Reflections on Judging, Richard Posner distills the experience of his thirty-one years as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Surveying how the judiciary has changed since his 1981 appointment, he engages the issues at stake today, suggesting how lawyers should argue cases and judges decide them, how trials can be improved, and, most urgently, how to cope with the dizzying pace of technological advance that makes litigation ever more challenging to judges and lawyers.
For Posner, legal formalism presents one of the main obstacles to tackling these problems. Formalist judges–most notably Justice Antonin Scalia–needlessly complicate the legal process by advocating “canons of constructions” (principles for interpreting statutes and the Constitution) that are confusing and self-contradictory. Posner calls instead for a renewed commitment to legal realism, whereby a good judge gathers facts, carefully considers context, and comes to a sensible conclusion that avoids inflicting collateral damage on other areas of the law. This, Posner believes, was the approach of the jurists he most admires and seeks to emulate: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, Learned Hand, Robert Jackson, and Henry Friendly, and it is an approach that can best resolve our twenty-first-century legal disputes.
Further comments from Ed Whelan are here, specifically on Posner’s change in position on voter ID laws (which in the book he now says he opposes), including this:
Posner’s recent remarks [on voter ID laws] may instead stand as an indictment of the unstable and open-ended judicial approach that he advocates in his new book, a supposedly “pragmatic” approach in which how a judge should decide a case “will often depend on moral feelings, common sense, sympathies, and other ingredients of thought and feeling that can’t readily be translated into a weighing of measurable consequences” (p. 6).
NOTE: This article was originally posted at The Originalism Blog, “The Blog of the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism at the University of San Diego School of Law,” and is reposted here with permission from the author.
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