A distinguished and experienced appellate court judge, Richard A. Posner offers in this new book a unique and, to orthodox legal thinkers, a startling perspective on how judges and justices decide cases. When conventional legal materials enable judges to ascertain the true facts of a case and apply clear pre-existing legal rules to them, Posner argues, they do so straightforwardly; that is the domain of legalist reasoning. However, in non-routine cases, the conventional materials run out and judges are on their own, navigating uncharted seas with equipment consisting of experience, emotions, and often unconscious beliefs. In doing so, they take on a legislative role, though one that is confined by internal and external constraints, such as professional ethics, opinions of respected colleagues, and limitations imposed by other branches of government on freewheeling judicial discretion. Occasional legislators, judges are motivated by political considerations in a broad and sometimes a narrow sense of that term. In that open area, most American judges are legal pragmatists. Legal pragmatism is forward-looking and policy-based. It focuses on the consequences of a decision in both the short and the long term, rather than on its antecedent logic. Legal pragmatism so understood is really just a form of ordinary practical reasoning, rather than some special kind of legal reasoning.
Supreme Court justices are uniquely free from the constraints on ordinary judges and uniquely tempted to engage in legislative forms of adjudication. More than any other court, the Supreme Court is best understood as a political court.
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From the book: Ivan Karamazov said that if God does not exist everything is permitted, and traditional legal thinkers are likely to say that if legalism (legal formalism, orthodox legal reasoning, a "government of laws not men," the "rule of law" as celebrated in the loftiest "Law Day" rhetoric, and so forth) does not exist everything is permitted to judges--so watch out! Legalism does exist, and so not everything is permitted. But its kingdom has shrunk and greyed to the point where today it is largely limited to routine cases, and so a great deal is permitted to judges. Just how much is permitted and how they use their freedom are the principal concerns of this book. . . . I am struck by how unrealistic are the conceptions of the judge held by most people, including practicing lawyers and eminent law professors, who have never been judges--and even by some judges. This unrealism is due to a variety of things, including the different perspectives of the different branches of the legal profession--including also a certain want of imagination. It is also due to the fact that most judges are cagey, even coy, in discussing what they do. They tend to parrot an official line about the judicial process (how rule-bound it is), and often to believe it, though it does not describe their actual practices. This book parts the curtain a bit.About the Author:
Richard A. Posner is Circuit Judge, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.
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