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Reflections on Judgingby Richard A Posner
Synopses & Reviews
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.
For Richard Posner, legal formalism and formalist judges--notably Antonin Scalia--present the main obstacles to coping with the dizzying pace of technological advance. Posner calls for legal realism--gathering facts, considering context, and reaching a sensible conclusion that inflicts little collateral damage on other areas of the law.
It has long been held that humans need government to impose social order on a chaotic, dangerous world. How, then, did early humans survive on the Serengeti Plain, surrounded by faster, stronger, and bigger predators in a harsh and forbidding environment? Pirates, Prisoners, and Lepers examines an array of natural experiments and accidents of human history to explore the fundamental nature of how human beings act when beyond the scope of the law. Pirates of the 1700s, the leper colony on Molokai Island, prisoners of the Nazis, hippie communes of the 1970s, shipwreck and plane crash survivors, and many more diverse groupsand#8212;they all existed in the absence of formal rules, punishments, and hierarchies. Paul and Sarahand#160;Robinson draw on these real-life stories to suggest that humans are predisposed to be cooperative, within limits.and#160;
What these and#8220;communitiesand#8221; did and how they managed have dramatic implications for shaping our modern institutions. Should todayand#8217;s criminal justice system build on peopleand#8217;s shared intuitions about justice? Or are we better off acknowledging this aspect of human nature but using law to temper it? Knowing the true nature of our human character and our innate ideas about justice offers a roadmap to a better society.
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.
University of Chicago Law School
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