Category: History of Law

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FAN 47 (First Amendment News) Anniversary Issue: Returning “Home” — Looking Back on Fox v. Washington (1915)

Anniversary: It was a year ago (February 10, 2014 to be precise) that I posted my first FAN column on Concurring Opinions. Now, 46-plus posts later (there were also a number of non-scheduled posts), I think the endeavor well worth the time to spread the First Amendment word — the serious and silly, the admirable and objectionable, the high and low, the liberal and conservative, and everything in between and beyond. Thanks to Dan Solove (our blog publisher) for inviting me onboard. Dan’s respect for the integrity of the work product and his encouragement to take it to “the next level” have made the adventure all the more challenging and exciting. Thanks also to all those who so kindly directed First Amendment news my way. In the coming year I hope to improve on what works while testing out a few new ways of how to look at our free speech world. — RKLC      

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“The agitator is the mostly roundly abused and at the same time most necessary individual in society.” Jay Fox 

Colony of Home (credit: Justin Wadland, Trying Home (2014))

Colony of Home (credit: Justin Wadland, Trying Home (2014))

Ponder this creed: HOME is where freedom resides. That ideal was as much a personal hope as it was a political ideal for some who long ago traveled through Puget Sound to a cove in the Pacific Northwest. They toiled first to buy nearby land (26 acres) and then to build on it — not just log cabins but a commune of anarchists, radical feminists, artists, and free-thinking women and men dedicated to a way of living very much counter to the conventions of late 19th century America.

It began in 1896 when a group of free-spirt types, known as “Homeites,” set out to establish the utopian colony of Home. Things started out well in this idyllic community as more and more families came and pitched in to make Home their home. As they invested more and more of their lives into that experiment in freedom, their lifestyles drew more and more attention beyond the borders of their beloved Home. And that proved to be a problem — one with realpolitik consequences.

“In 1902, after charges of violation of the Comstock Act resulting from an article advocating free-love published in the local anarchist newspaper Discontent: Mother of Progress, Home’s post office was closed by postal inspectors and moved two miles to the smaller town of Lakebay.” (Source here). But that did not stop their counter-culture ways. True to their libertine life styles, some “Homeites” took to nude sun tanning in the woods of the Key Peninsula, near Tacoma in Washington State.

It was too good to last: In short time, four individuals were arrested for indecent exposure. Incensed by their arrests, on July 11, 1911 Jay Fox (1870-1961), the editor of The Agitator, published an essay entitled “The Nudes and the Prudes.” In it Fox — an independent-minded man devoted to halting “the crimes of capitalism” — urged boycotts of the businesses of those who railed against nude bathing.

Note: “The Agitator” bold text above is a copy of the original banner of Jay Fox’s publication.

According to Washington State historian and librarian Mary M. Carr, “The Agitator made its first appearance on November 18, 1910, although in his editorial Fox proclaimed that it appeared on November 11, the 25th [sic] anniversary of the execution of the Haymarket martyrs. (Actually, he was four days late for the 23d anniversary.) In its subtitle, The Agitator defined itself as an ‘Advocate of the Modem School, Industrial Unionism, and Individual Freedom.’ Fox declared that it would ‘stand for freedom first, last and all the time,’ and would promote the right of every person to express his opinions. He hoped to popularize knowledge so that common toilers, as well as the ‘rich and privileged class’ cou1d be ‘uplifted to philosophy and science.'”

“It is only by agitation that the laws of the land are made better. It is only by agitation that reforms have been broughtabout in the world. Show me a country where there is the most tyranny and I’ll show you the country where there is no free speech. This country was settled on that right, the right of free expression.”Jay Fox (January 11, 1912)

Not surprisingly, Fox’s passionate opposition to the prudish ways of those in power did not sit well with Washington State’s bluenose establishment. Hence, he was prosecuted  under a Washington statute that prohibited printing or circulating publications that encouraged a commission of a crime. Fox was tried and convicted in 1912 and received a two month sentence, which the Washington Supreme Court declined to set aside in State v. Fox, 71 Wash. 185 (1912). Review was then sought in the United States Supreme Court.

The lawyers Read More

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Grant Gilmore’s Resurrection . . . with a little help from Philip Bobbitt

 Grant was a magician in an age of bureaucrats. — Anthony Kronman (1982)

Grant Gilmore

Grant Gilmore

The Ages of American Law has been reissued with a new foreword and a new final chapter by Columbia Law School Professor Philip Bobbitt. More about that soon, but first a few words about the man recently reincarnated.

Grant Gilmore died on May 24, 1982 — the same date of Benjamin Cardozo’s birth (May 24, 1870). G.G. died in his sleep; he was 72.

Gilmore was a Yale man (AB, 1931, PhD, 1936 & L.L.B, 1942) bred in the Boston suburbs. He began his academic career teaching French at Yale, but he tired of it and so ventured into law. He taught at Yale Law School, University of Chicago Law School, the College of Law (now Moritz College of Law) at Ohio State University, and finally at Vermont Law School. His books included:

Though he was picked by the executors of the Oliver Wendell Holmes papers to do the definite biography of Justice Holmes (very strange!), it never came to pass. And he never published his PhD dissertation — Stephane Mallarme: A Biography and Interpretation (1936). By way of an interesting aside: In 1959 Professor Arthur Corbin privately recommended Gilmore to serve as an advisor for the drafting of The Restatement (2nd) of Contracts (also strange). As fate had it, that, too, never came to pass and Gilmore never became a “restater.”

By the time he died, the complex and cantankerous Gilmore had made his mark on the law, and a notable though peculiar mark it was. For all his fame and infamy, no gravestone marked his memory. His scattered ashes were his final consideration, illusory as that may seem.

Ironically, this bold and blazing scholar left his papers to the Harvard Law School — the same institution that held firmly to the conviction that “inspiration should be distrusted,” or so Gilmore put it in 1963, albeit with a critical cutting edge.

∇ ∇ ∇

Philip Bobbitt

Philip Bobbitt

And now, like the Phoenix of old, he returns to find new life. Or at least that part of him arising from The Ages of American Lawwhich has just been republished in Kindle form. Here, as Professor Bobbitt recounts it, is how it came to pass: “In late 2011, I was approached by an editor at Yale University Press, who was considering a revised edition of Grant Gilmore’s classic, The Ages of American Law. I responded that I would be pleased if the Press would publish, as a Foreword to such an edition, my 1975 essay in the Yale Law Journal introducing one of Gilmore’s lectures, ‘The Age of Anxiety,’ which he reworked to form Chapter 4 of the book. After reading that essay,” adds Bobbitt, “the editor proposed that it be published as a ‘historical document with a preface to provide context’ and that I should also draft a new section bringing it up to date, as apparently some readers wished in the classes in which the book is taught.”

41seNslJYSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_That is how Bobbitt’s fascinating foreword begins. But there is much more, about Robert Cover, the famed Storrs Lectures (Oct. 1974), and young Philip Bobbitt’s role in it all. (Gilmore thanked Bobbitt in the acknowledgements to Ages. It was, after all, Bobbitt who had drafted the “Editors’ Introduction” to Gilmore’s “The Age of Anxiety” essay published in 1975 in the Yale Law Journal).

Bonus: There is a new 50-age chapter (#6) added to Ages: it is by Bobbitt and is titled “The Age of Consent,” which first appeared last year in the Yale Law Journal.

* * * *

 Book Review of The Ages of American Law, Mark Tushnet, American Journal of Legal History (1977).

→ Ellen A. Peters, “Grant Gilmore and the Illusion of Certainty,” Yale Law Journal (1982)

2010 State of the Union Address
2010 State of the Union Address
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FAN 44 (First Amendment News) Citizens United: it was 5 years ago today — 13 First Amendment lawyers & scholars offer differing views

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections,” [President Obama] said of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which allowed corporations to donate to political candidates. Justice Samuel Alito then shook his head and whispered, “not true.” — Tessa Berenson, Time (2015)

On this day five years ago the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, handed down its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (transcripts here and here & audio file — argument and re-argumament —  here).

As you will see, the comments below span a wide rhetorical range. On the one hand, some view Citizens United as “one of the worst decisions in the history of the United States Supreme Court” (Geof Stone), while others argue that the Court in Citizens United “reaffirmed and applied core First Amendment principles” (Joel Gora). See below for the full spectrum of views.   

Speaking of money and speech, the Court now has before it a First Amendment challenge to a panhandling law — Thayer v. City of Worcester (distributed for Conference of Jan. 9, 2015).

Before proceeding to the comments, I thought it might be useful to provide a few hyperlinked historical facts about the case. 

The documentary that prompted the litigation

Hillary: The Movie

The Petitioner

The Lawyer for the Petitioner in the District Court

Three-Judge District Court per curiam opinion here

The Lawyers who argued the case in the Supreme Court 

  1. Theodore B. Olson (argued the cause for the Appellant)
  2. Floyd Abrams (on behalf of Senator Mitch McConnell, as amicus curiae, in support of the Appellant)
  3. Malcolm L. Stewart (Deputy S.G., Department of Justice, argued the cause for the Appellee)
  4. Elena Kagan (Solicitor General, Department of Justice, reargued the cause for the Appellee)
  5. Seth P. Waxman (on behalf of Senators John McCain et al. as amici curiae in support of the Appellee)

Five Years Later — Lawyers & Scholars Offer Comments 

Floyd Abrams: “Academics, it seems fair to say, are overwhelmingly critical of the Citizens United ruling. If they were irate about  Buckley v. Valeo (1976) — formerly their consensus choice as the worst Supreme Court ruling since Dred Scott (1856) — they are apoplectic about Citizens United.  At the core of the both rulings is the now familiar proposition first uttered by the Supreme Court in Buckley  and repeated with approval in Citizens United that “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.” If one accepts that notion, as I do, the ruling in Citizens United follows naturally and a documentary-like movie that castigated Hillary Clinton when she last sought the presidency must be protected by the First Amendment. If one does not, one naturally enough can join the four Citizens United dissenters in concluding that it is constitutional to impose criminal penalties for the airing of that film on television. For me, that was not a difficult choice five years ago and it is not one today.”

See here re brief filed by Mr. Abrams in Citizens United; see also his “Citizens United and Its Critics,” Yale L.J. Online (2010)

Mr. Jan W. Baran

Mr. Jan W. Baran

Jan W. Baran: “The Court was correct to protect political speech by all citizens and groups, including corporations and unions. Current so-called reform efforts, including proposals to amend the Constitution, prove that the First Amendment is all that stands between political freedom and government control of speech. Contrary to President Obama’s dire predictions, corporations are not distorting political debate and foreign money (which is illegal) has not flooded campaigns. It is the Obama re-election committee that became the first campaign to raise and spend $1 billion.  So much for campaign money distorting the system.”

 See here re brief filed by Mr. Baran in Citizens United.

Robert Corn-Revere: “Citizens United is like a political Rorschach Test. But when divorced from its many critics’ policy preferences, it is a pretty straightforward First Amendment case that concludes there are constitutional difficulties with making political speech a federal crime.  And, along the way, the Court reached a number of important (and usually overlooked) constitutional findings. One key conclusion is that “[w]e must decline to draw, and then redraw, constitutional lines based on the particular media or technology used to disseminate political speech from a particular speaker.” The Court observed that “[t]he Framers may have been unaware of certain types of speakers or forms of communication, but that does not mean that those speakers and media are entitled to less First Amendment protection than those types of speakers and media that provided the means of communicating political ideas when the Bill of Rights was adopted.” This fundamental constitutional principle is increasingly important as we witness seismic changes in the global media environment. And it is just one of several important pillars of the case.”

Number of articles about Citizens United in the 27 months following the decision 

New York Times         1100

Washington Post        327

USA Today                  220

Wall Street Journal    195

 This count includes columns and opinion pieces but not blog posts.

 Source: Douglas Spencer & Abby Wood, Indiana L. J. (2014)

Allen Dickerson: “Citizens United has become a symbol onto which politicians and commentators project their own hopes, agendas, and insecurities. But cutting through the rhetoric, the case asked a simple question: on what principled basis could the government ban a nonprofit’s documentary while permitting corporate newspaper endorsements? The Court, correctly, said ‘none.’ Nevertheless, legislatures and regulators continue to draw distinctions between different types of speech, and different types of speakers, and the result is a level of bureaucratic complexity average Americans cannot hope to navigate. Five years after Citizens United showed us our error, burdened by a national debate that yields more heat than light, we continue to avoid the difficult task of reforming that troubling approach to political engagement.”

Professor Joel Gora

Professor Joel Gora

Joel Gora: “The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a landmark of political freedom. By striking down government bans on political speech by labor unions, corporations and non-profit organizations, the Court reaffirmed and applied core First Amendment principles. These include the concepts that protecting political speech against government censorship is at the core of the First Amendment’s mission, that the government cannot be empowered to decide which people or groups can speak about government and politics, what they can say, or how much they can say, and that democracy requires as much information as possible from diverse and antagonistic sources.”

“Embodying these principles, the Citizens United decision has had a number of salutary consequences. It has provided doctrinal support for further easing of campaign finance limits on political speech and association.  Second, the rejection of such limits has turned attention properly to more positive efforts to address our admitted campaign finance system difficulties. Finally, although the predicted tsunami of corporate spending “drowning our democracy” never materialized, the Court’s decision has helped spark an increase in overall political funding which has helped make our elections more competitive and the electorate better informed. All in all, I submit, a good day’s work for political freedom and democracy.”

 See here re brief coauthored by Professor Gora in Citizens United.

Richard Hasen: “After five years, it has become clear that Citizens United is only part of the problem. If the Court reversed it tomorrow (something I am not expecting), we would still have Super PACs funded by very wealthy individuals, loads of undisclosed money coming through 501(c)(4)’s and other organizations, and an increased ability for those with economic power to transform it into political power. It is time to rethink first principles — which is my current book project. Stay tuned.”

→ See Professor Hasen’s Legislation, Statutory Interpretation, and Election Law (ch. 13, 2014) re his comments on Citizens United

Forthcoming Book

Elizabeth Price Foley, Defending Citizens United: How Campaign Finance Laws Restrict Free Speech (Praeger, Oct. 31, 2015)

Alan Morrison: “The fight with the Court over Citizens United should not be over whether corporations have rights to make political expenditures, but whether the Court’s ruling in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) that there can be no limits on independent expenditures and that there are no constitutional or other values that can even be considered in assessing that ruling. Here are some examples.  The pre-Buckley decision in United States v. O’Brien (1968), recognized that the right to political protest could be overcome by the Government’s interest in enforcing its selective service laws. In Burson v. Freeman (1992), the Court upheld a law prohibiting the core political activities of soliciting votes and distributing of campaign materials within 100 feet of a polling place.  And cases like Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989), would surely support an ordinance that banned sound trucks from blaring at more than 100 decibels at midnight.  Post Citizens United, the Court summarily upheld the law that bans all contributions and independent expenditures solely because the plaintiffs were neither U.S. citizens nor permanent resident aliens.  Bluman v. FEC (2012). (See also here.)”

 See here re brief coauthored by Mr. Morrison in Citizens United.

Professor Tamara Piety

Professor Tamara Piety

Tamara Piety: “Citizens United legitimated the notion that corporations (and capital) are embattled, “disfavored” speakers entitled to the special solicitude of the courts’ counter-majoritarian power, as if they were a discrete and insular minority which lacked access to the political process, rather than a force that is very nearly constituent of it. It relies on an implied (and specious) syllogism: if discrimination against people is bad, and corporations are people, then “discriminating” between corporations and natural persons, or between types of corporations, is likewise bad. This reasoning animates Hobby Lobby (2014) and is echoed in Sorrell v. IMS Health (2011), with “marketing” standing in for “corporation” and “speech” for “people.” This line of argument has destabilized much corporate and regulatory law.  For its proponents, Citizens United has been fabulously successful; but that success has come at some political cost. Citizens United has tarnished the Court’s public image. It seems likely that the decision will be cut back, but how and from which direction is difficult to predict.”

→ See Professor Piety’s Brandishing the First Amendment (2012) re her comments on Citizens United

Ilya Shapiro: “Citizens United is one of the most misunderstood high-profile cases ever and it’s both more and less important than you might think. It’s more important because it revealed the unworkability of our current system of campaign regulation. It’s less important because it doesn’t stand for half of what many people say it does. By removing limits on independent associational speech—spending on political advertising by people unconnected to candidates and parties—it weakened the government’s control of who can speak, how much, and on what subject. That’s a good thing. After all, people don’t lose their rights when they get together, whether it be in unions, non-profit advocacy groups, private clubs, for-profit enterprises, or any other form.”

 See here re brief coauthored by Mr. Shapiro in Citizens United; see also his op-ed “Citizens United Misunderstood, USA Today, Jan. 20, 2015

Professor Geoffrey Stone

Professor Geoffrey Stone

Geoffrey Stone: “Citizens United may well turn out to be one of the worst decisions in the history of the United States Supreme Court. As Oliver Wendell Holmes recognized almost a century ago, the American political system depends upon the reasonable functioning of the “marketplace of ideas.” It has always been clear that that “marketplace” is imperfect. But until now, it was generally able to reflect the views of the majority of the American people. With its decision in Citizens United, the Supreme Court has unleashed forces that seriously threaten to corrupt and distort that “marketplace” in ways that stand the First Amendment on its head and endanger the future of American democracy.”

See Professor Stone’s article “Citizens United & Conservative Judicial Activism,” U. Ill. L. Rev. (2012)

Nadine Strossen: “From President Obama,  in his  State of the Union Address the following week, to major media outlets, the vast majority of Citizens United’s critics misstate its holdings. Almost never mentioned are the crucial facts that it protects the rights of non-profit corporations and unions to spend their own money on their own messages; too often asserted is the falsehood that it permits wealthy for-profit corporations (or anyone, for that matter) to make unlimited contributions to candidates’ campaigns.”

See here re Professor Strossen’s comments on Citizens United

Fred Wertheimer: “The ideologically driven Citizens United decision has left the nation’s campaign finance and political system in shambles. It is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever made. The Court ignored the country’s history, its own jurisprudence and the need to protect America’s system of representative government against corruption – a need recognized by the Founding Fathers. Citizens United will not stand the test of time. It will end up in the dustbin of history.”

 See here re brief coauthored by Mr. Wertheimer in Citizens United.

Larry Tribe on Citizens United

Forthcoming: The working title is “Dividing Citizens United: The Case v. The Controversy.” The piece will appear in Constitutional Commentary.

Adam Winkler: “Citizens United is one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in a generation. Yet the decision is widely misunderstood by the public. From Occupy Wall Street to the White House, Citizens United has inspired critics who insist that corporations are not people. Yet the Supreme Court did not rely on corporate personhood in Citizens United. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion never refers to corporations as people and nothing in the reasoning of the opinion turns on personhood. Justice Kennedy instead insists corporations are “associations of citizens” whose rights derive from the natural people who make up the firm. This is a problematic formulation that hides the corporation and allows the Court to avoid asking hard questions about what rights corporations as such should have. Justice Kennedy’s approach equates a business corporation with a voluntary membership organization like the NAACP, both equally entitled to assert the rights of its members.”

“Corporations are people under corporate law. That was their original purpose. And corporations must have some constitutional rights, such as the right to property and due process. Yet they shouldn’t have all the same rights as people, such as the right to vote or hold office. Constitutional doctrine would be improved if instead of hiding the corporation, we recognized that corporations are indeed people — and then asked which rights these corporate people ought to have.”

See here re Professor Winkler’s “Three Misconceptions in Citizens United

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Event: Citizens United v. FEC after Five Years Read More

Posner
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Afterword: Posner at 75 – “It’s My Job”

Take him for all and all. William Shakespeare (circa 1600)

I live on my own credit. Friedrich Nietzsche (1888)

I believe in cremation. No tombstone for me. – Richard Posner (2013)

This is twelfth and final installment in the Posner on Posner series. (Note: some of the hyperlinks below may open in Firefox or Chrome but not in Safari.)

His temperament: largely solitary and characteristically confident. His manner: often distant and frequently detached. His character: habitually unconventional. He seems indifferent to creeds and causes. And he can be steel-like — cold, calculating, and controlling. Then again, catch him at the right part of the day, at the right tick of  the clock, and with the right circle of people and he can be witty and lively in his own unique way.

In all of these respects and others, one soon enough senses the obvious: Richard Posner is different. Nothing pejorative here, just descriptive. Besides, it has been a feature of his persona for so long as to have become his trademark. While there have been a few modifications of his views over the decades, the man himself has remained basically the same, though he may (?) have mellowed a bit. That said, Posner is ever the maverick; that is his calling card to the world.

The more we learn of him, the more he defies the norm of how most people think about most judges. Though we already know much about the public work of this jurist, there is still much to learn about the man himself — his inner thoughts, his private communications, and his personal traits. The biographical story is, after all, the most revealing of all stories.

The Boxer

Richard Posner turned 75 earlier this year (on January 11th – the same date of William James’ birth). The New York born jurist is in good health and exercises regularly: “A great deal,” he told me. “It’s my principal non-working activity.” When not reading or writing, he expends his energy on an elliptical trainer and does balance exercises. “I have an elliptical trainer at home and also do a lot of walking outside,” he adds. He takes heart-pumping walks inside, too, and is known for climbing “the stairs to his office on the 27th floor of the Everett M. Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago.”

UnknownTo look at his fit frame one might guess that he exercises. And like all else in his life – be it mental or physical – Posner takes such matters seriously. “I have a personal trainer twice a week. He puts me through all sorts of strenuous exercises, including push-ups and pull-ups.” And then there is “boxing with a sixty-pound hanging leather punching bag (not a live person).”

Though he dislikes professional boxing, he sure loves to box . . . with a boxing bag, that is. He pounds away with his Everlast gloves landing blow after body blow at this stuffed specimen of a man. It is all part of his private workout regimen in the basement of his trainer’s quarters. “I had [a punching bag] of my own,” he says, “but I had to give it away because it upset the cat [the famed Pixie]. The bag was suspended from a steel frame that, because of the unevenness of the floor in the only room in which the contraption fit, rattled disconcertingly.” So he took his pounding elsewhere. And why this form of exercise? “My doctor says that boxing is excellent exercise,” he adds.

The boxing image fits – well, sort of. On the one hand, Richard Posner is a natural born boxer given all the cerebral bouts he has been in over the years – and he still returns to that ring time and again like a resilient Rocky Balboa. On the other hand, Richard Posner is too brainy / too soft mannered / and too genteel to engage in the real sport. Besides, he’s too pragmatic to like such a brutal sport: “I worry about brain damage to professional boxers,” he tells me.

Mix his cerebral and physical sides and what do you have? Quite simply, a man who likes to punch but doesn’t like boxing; a man who savors the sport of dialogic give-and-take but disdains the mano a mano reality of the ring; and a man who, at 75, is determined to remain mentally and physically fit, if only to force the Grim Reaper to go several extra rounds.

Holmes & Posner: Similar Yet Very Different

Justice Holmes

Justice Holmes

Sometimes comparisons are made between Oliver Wendell Holmes and Richard Posner. And Holmes is the jurist Posner most respects – that “most illustrious figure in the history of American law” is how he described him in the book Posner edited of the great Justice’s works. However true such comparisons might be, it is useful to consider how the two jurists were situated at the same points in their lives. To do that, one must turn the biographical clocks back and then forward.

* * * *

1916 was a good year, a very good one for Justice Holmes. That said, he penned no great opinions or scholarly works and gave no significant speeches that year. And yet it was a memorable year. Why? Because that was the year that Holmes turned 75 on March 8th. Four events occurred that year that made it a special one in the jurist’s life.

First, there was the small dinner party that his wife Fanny had arranged. It was a modest affair: a few friends (all accomplished men), some good food and drink, and birthday well wishes to cap it all off. As the guests left, the tall and tired jurist headed towards his library when he suddenly heard strange sounds – the sounds of birds, many of them. What could it be? He went downstairs to find out. Much to his surprise, and there beyond the parlor, was young group of admirers tooting away with bird callers in his birthday honor. All Fanny’s doing, of course. There was “much laughter and jaw,” recalled Holmes, “until after midnight.” One of celebrants went so far as to write “some very pretty verses,” which touched the white-haired Justice. By the time the parting hour arrived, Holmes was quite content: “Altogether it was very charming.”

UnknownSecond, there was the Harvard Law Review festschrift (29 Harv. L. Rev. 565) that Felix Frankfurter had organized. Now OWH was being publicly honored, and in print. And what an esteemed group of men: Professors Felix Frankfurter and Frederick Pollock, Deans Roscoe Pound and John Henry Wigmore, Judge Learned Hand, and Morris Cohen, the philosopher. Writing to Frankfurter in April of 1916, Holmes expressed his appreciation: “Very few things in life have given me such pleasure.”

Third, in June of 1916 the Senate confirmed Louis Brandeis. Once confirmed, Holmes opined that Brandeis “will make a good judge.” And so he sent him a very short telegram: “WELCOME.” It was the beginning of a judicial friendship that would help buttress Holmes’ fame . . . even at 75.

And finally, that was the year that Holmes met Harold Laski, a young British political theorist who would also have a hand in shaping the future of Holmes’ thought.

Of course, Holmes lived another 15 years, during which time he solidified his reputation and further secured his position in the gallery of great jurists. In the years following his 1916 birthday, Holmes wrote memorable opinions (majority and separate) in cases such as: Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), Schenck v. United States (1919), Abrams v. United States (1919), Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States (1920), Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923), Gitlow v. New York (1925), United States v. Schwimmer (1929), and Baldwin v. Missouri (1930).

* * * *

Holmes savored the shared life; Posner bears it. Holmes socialized, Posner exercises. As for birthday celebrations and the like, RP has no time and little patience for such flattery: “I don’t like celebrations or parties” he says with icy certitude. At 75, there were no festschrifts for Posner (though an issue of the University of Chicago Law Review commemorated his 25 years on the bench – notably, the issue contained several critical essays). And no Louis Brandeis or Harold Laski is likely to influence his cerebral course (though in earlier years he had Aaron Director, George Stigler, and Gary Becker, who all helped to shape his thoughts). And so, when his life clock turned 75, it came and went sans any surprises . . . and that’s the way he likes it.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 10.57.57 AMBy three score and fifteen, Posner, like Holmes, has accomplished much. Notably, he has written more (far more) than the famed jurist, and Posner’s Economic Analysis of Law may well have as much influence and staying power as Holmes’s The Common Law. And in his finer opinions, Posner displays “a fierce intellectual curiosity, a genuine engagement with ideas, an eagerness to cut through the legal babble to get to the core of the issue,” says Professor Geoffrey Stone, “and an evident delight in occasionally reaching results that startle admirers and critics alike” — all exceptional traits for a sitting federal appellate judge.

While Judge Posner has no single opinion that is likely to be as memorable as Holmes’s Lochner dissent (he is, after all, a circuit judge, not a Justice), the cumulative impact of Posner’s many writings (both on and off the bench) has certainly left a significant imprint on American law. Even so, the question remains: Will he prove to be like Holmes and further solidify his fame, or has he already reached the pinnacle of his career in law and letters?

Methodology Matters

Judicial greatness is often in the eye of the beholder. Many of the standards adopted for determining the greatness of a judge are designed to ensure the selection of particular judges or to favor judges who reach certain substantive outcomes. For example, in suggesting creativity, intelligence, and frequency of citation as plausible yardsticks for measuring judicial greatness, Judge Richard Posner has largely settled on standards that reflect best on himself. — Michael J. Gerhardt (1995) 

Though he cares not about reputation or greatness when it comes to his own record (or so he likes to say), he does like to fish in such waters – only witness his book Cardozo: A Study in Reputation (1990) and his 1994 Yale Law Journal review essay of Gerald Gunther’s biography of Learned Hand (the review is titled “The Hand Biography and the Question of Judicial Greatness”). In both works Posner went to great lengths to formulate criteria for measuring judicial reputation and/or greatness. Though it is hard to imagine that the idea did not occur to him, Professor Gerhardt’s point is surely true – Posner does rather well by Posnerian criteria. (See Ronald Collins & David O’Brien, “Gauging Reputations, National Law Journal, pp. 13-14, April 1, 1991.)

Whatever the methodology of measuring judicial greatness, the sheer volume and diversity of the Posner corpus of writings render the evaluative biographical task rather daunting. It is a brute biographical fact: The Posnerian tentacles are too numerous and reach too far for any single work by a lone biographer to grapple with authoritatively. To further the biographical process along, some exacting scholarly work would have to be done by several experts who could evaluate Posner’s take on a given field of the law (see e.g. here). Those areas would include:

  • administrative law
  • animal rights (see here & here for RP’s views)
  • antitrust
  • arbitration
  • bankruptcy
  • civil procedure
  • constitutional law
  • contracts
  • corporate law
  • criminal procedure
  • federal courts
  • habeas corpus
  • insurance
  • intellectual property
  • jurisprudence
  • labor law
  • prisoners’ rights
  • securities law
  • taxation
  • telecommunications law, and
  • women’s rights

By the same measure, there would also need to be experts in economics and various areas of the humanities. Posner’s writing style would have to be studied as well (on this count Mr. Domnarski has already done much, and ably so, and will do more in his forthcoming biography of the Judge). Then there is Posner’s view of judging.

Judges are not umpires, calling balls and strikes.Richard Posner (1995)

My job is to call balls and strikesJohn Roberts (2005)

Additionally, there would have to be some allowance for a probing study the man himself — the persona of Richard Posner. After all that, someone would have to step back and compile a comprehensive overview in order to put things in full biographical perspective. (Such a work might be along the lines of one of the books in the Cambridge Companion series.)

And yet more is needed: If it were to be rigorously true to its subject, any intellectual-biographical portrait of Richard Posner would include, but could not be limited to, some tabulation of how other courts and scholars have referenced him – not just the number, but also the nature of the citations. Beyond the citation count, there is this question: If one were to map out the effects, if any, of Posnerian thinking over time, what would they show? Not just the economic effects, but also the jurisprudential, political, social, psychological, environmental, and human (as in humane) effects? If his reputational footprint were to prove as immense as his publication record, what would what future generations think of a Posnerian social order?

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The Promethean Posner – An Interview with the Judge’s Biographer

When one considers that the appellate judge is the central figure in Anglo-American jurisprudence, the dearth of evaluative writing on individual judges that is at once systematic, nonpolitical, and nonpolemical is remarkable. Richard Posner (1990)

This is the eleventh and next-to-last  installment in the Posner on Posner series.

William Domnarski is the author of a forthcoming biography of Judge Richard Posner. The table of contents for that biography is set out at the end of this post.  

Mr. Domnarski is a California-based lawyer who both practices law and teaches English. He is the author of four books:

  1. Swimming in Deep Water: Lawyers, Judges & Our Troubled Legal Profession (American Bar Association, 2014) (See here re Judge Richard Kopf’s comments on this book) 
  2. Federal Judges Revealed (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  3. The Great Justices: 1941-54 — Black, Douglas, Frankfurter and Jackson (University of Michigan Press, 2009)
  4. In the Opinion of the Court (University of Illinois Press, 1996)

Mr. Domnarski has likewise authored many scholarly articles (on law and also on literary criticism), including an article titled “The Correspondence of Henry Friendly and Richard A. Posner 1982-86.” In the Posnerian spirit, in 2012 he published a New York Times op-ed titled “Judges Should Write Their Own Opinions.”

William Domnarski has been a lawyer and legal writer for 30 years. He is the author of three previous books on federal judges, as well as a book on the nature of practicing law. He has a JD from the University of Connecticut School of Law and a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Riverside. (Publisher’s statement)

Note: Some of the links below will open in Firefox or Chrome but not in Safari.

Question: How did you first come to know Richard Posner?

William Domnarski

William Domnarski

Domnarski: It was through some correspondence in the late 1980s on Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities (1987). I challenged his 1988 Yale Law Journal review essay concerning the novel; he was gracious enough to concede that there was something to my point. A correspondence over the years then ensued.

Question: You have written about Judge Posner before. Tell our readers a little bit about that.

Domnarski: In 1996 I wrote a book on judicial opinions that featured a lengthy chapter on Posner’s opinions. In that chapter I argued that he was writing opinions the likes of which we had never seen before. In that regard, a few years ago I was delighted to find at the Harvard Law School a 1983 letter from Henry Friendly to Posner (they corresponded during the last four years of Friendly’s life) in which Friendly wrote essentially the same thing to Posner, this as part of his assessment that Posner was the greatest appellate judge of his generation.

It was from Judge Friendly . . . that Posner learned the surprising truth that Holmes was wrong when he said that you can live greatly in the law. . . . With judging, Posner feels, you cannot know enough about one thing. The knowledge is too much on the surface because so much is required. To live greatly as an intellectual contributor, Posner has determined that he must go beyond law. William Domnarski (1996)

Question: Oxford University Press is publishing your forthcoming biography (with David McBride as your editor). Had you submitted the book elsewhere or did you go to Oxford because you had published with that house before?

Domnarski: I had a contractual obligation to go to Oxford first with my proposal because it had published my last book. That said, I would gone there anyway because Oxford is so good at what it does.

Question: How long will your biography be?

Domnarski: It will probably be a happy medium, around 125 thousand words [RC: Oxford lists it at 336 pages]. Long books turn most readers off, and a short book just wouldn’t let me cover all that I need to cover.

Question: When is it scheduled for publication?

Domnarski: It should be available sometime during the Spring-Summer of 2015.

Question: What kind of response did you get from the people you were able to interview?

Answer: First of all, almost everyone, wanted to talk to me. There were only three or four people who took a pass, one rather huffily. Nearly everyone I contacted long thought that there was something special about him. It was as though they knew that they would be asked about Posner sometime in the future.

Question: Did you interview any sitting Justices?

Domnarski: In an earlier book, I interviewed Justice Antonin Scalia and then Judge Stephen Breyer about Posner. Thereafter, I met once with Justice Breyer at the Supreme Court, this when I was thinking about taking the Posner biography on as a project.

Question: There was a wide conceptual gap between the thought of the late Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013) and that of the Judge. Did you have an opportunity to interview Professor Dworkin? If so, what can you tell us about that?

Domnarski: I suspect Dworkin would have been willing to talk (only a few have declined), but he was ill when I wrote to him. Thus, I did not get a chance to interview him. I did, nonetheless, talk with some people close to Dworkin. They provided me with some information and insight about how Dworkin responded to Posner when they famously clashed (helmets flashing) at a 1979 conference on the issue of wealth maximization. [RC: See Guido Calabresi, “An Exchange: About Law and Economics: A Letter to Ronald Dworkin“]

Question: What individual(s), living or dead, do you think has had the greatest impact on the Judge’s thinking? And why?

Domnarski: Three great economists come to mind – Aaron Director, George Stigler, and Gary Becker. From them Posner learned economic analysis and the way that it can illuminate the connections, large and small, between economics and the way we live.

Publisher’s Blurb

Now, for the first time, this fascinating figure receives a full-length biographical treatment. In Richard Posner, William Domnarski examines the life experience, personality, academic career, jurisprudence, and professional relationships of his subject with depth and clarity. Domnarski has had access to Posner himself and to Posner’s extensive archive at the University of Chicago. In addition, Domnarski was able to interview and correspond with more than two hundred people Posner has known, worked with, or gone to school with over the course of his career, from grade school to the present day. 

THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING POSNER’S BIOGRAPHY

Question: What was the biggest challenge in doing this biography?

Domnarski: The easy answer is the staggering amount of paper I had to push through. I have been on Posner’s slip opinion mailing list (now sent via e-mail) since the late 1980s. I read the opinions as they came out, but once I took on the project I had to read them all over again, this time annotating them – there are some three thousand of them. Then there are the dozens of books and the hundreds of articles. But that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was the ongoing challenge of trying to figure out what mattered in Posner’s career and how I could make that matter to my readers.

Judicial biography is one of the most difficult genres in which to write. Few, if any, writers meet the challenges that the genre presents. In Posner’s case, you are essentially writing a book about someone who sits at a desk and reads and writes. It’s all a judgment call, I guess, about what one thinks matters most. The hope is that one will have answered all or most of the questions the reader will have, and this in an appealing and intelligible way.

Question: What has it been like to work with the Judge in writing this biography? Have there been any awkward moments?

Domnarski: He’s been a prince about cooperating with me. The book is not, however, an authorized biography, by which I mean that I have no obligations to Posner and he has no right to review the manuscript or to insist on changes.

The Judge agreed to give me complete access to his archive at the University of Chicago Regenstein Library. He also agreed to sit for recorded interviews, and to answer any questions I might e-mail him. On that score, I would sometimes send e-mails at eleven or twelve in the evening (California time) and get an immediate response. He also took me through three boxes of childhood memorabilia, including baby pictures and the report cards.

The only moments that could possibly come close to being awkward were a few times when I relayed or just mentioned a story someone told me (I interviewed people dating back to his grade school years). Sometimes he remembered the story differently or said that what I had been told did not happen. Of course, that is not unusual as any biographer knows.

Question:

  1. Given the complexity of his character, the volume of his work, and nature of his jurisprudence, how did you go about juggling all those biographical balls while at the same time moving your narrative along?
  1. How analytical will your biography be? That is, are there any extended critiques (by you or others) of his opinions and jurisprudence generally, or is your book largely descriptive?

Domnarski:

  1. It was easy enough to write separate chapters on Posner’s early years, such as chapters taking him through high school and then through college at Yale and law school at Harvard. And it was also easy grouping together Posner’s various Washington jobs and then writing a separate and fairly long chapter on his full-time teaching years at Chicago. The hard part was dealing with all those opinions and all those books and articles once he went onto the bench. I’ve tried to move the narrative forward by dividing the mass of work by decades and following different themes and threads in each decade so that the reader always has something fresh.
  1. I analyze why his opinions are special and try to pinpoint his contributions to the law by looking at the way his opinions have been used by other circuit court judges. I also track how the Supreme Court has responded to his opinions when they were reviewed by the High Court. This is as part of my broader interest in tracking a kind of marketplace response to his jurisprudence. I do the same with his many books. I don’t argue, though, that he is the most influential judge of his time or that he is the most respected. I take these points as givens and try to explain how and why his reputation is what it is. Put differently, I have tried to avoid jurisprudential analyses that I think weigh down other judicial biographies.

Question: The last major biography of a federal court of appeals judge was David Dorsen’s Henry Friendly, Greatest Judge of His Era (2012), also a practicing lawyer-authored biography. What was your sense of that biography and how does it differ in form and style from the one you are doing of Judge Posner?

Domnarski: For all of its strengths, the Dorsen book left me wanting because I wanted to hear more about Judge Friendly from people who knew him at various stages of his life. That’s the difficulty with writing about someone who is so far in our past such as Friendly, who died in 1986 – like him, his contemporaries have all passed.

There are, to be sure, inherent problems in writing about a subject based in part on information gathered in interviews in the same way that there are inherent problems in interviewing a subject to gather information. But from the point of view of being able to make the subject come alive for the reader, this kind of information is first tier, nearly equal I’d say to what the subject writes in private correspondence. (in that respect, I had access to Posner’s many letters by way of his Chicago archive.)

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Posner on Same-Sex Marriage: Then and Now

. . .  I disagree with contentions that the Constitution should be interpreted to require state recognition of homosexual marriage on the ground that it is a violation of equal protection of the laws to discriminate against homosexuals by denying them that right. Given civil unions, and contractual substitutes for marriage even short of civil unions, the discrimination involved in denying the right of homosexual marriage seems to me too slight (though I would not call it trivial) to warrant the courts in bucking strong public opinion . . . . — Richard Posner (2005)

At various points [in oral arguments in the same-sex cases], Judge Posner derided arguments from the Wisconsin and Indiana lawyers as “pathetic,” “ridiculous,” and “absurd.” — David Lat (2014)

This is the ninth installment in the “Posner on Posner” series of posts on Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, the seventh here, and the eighth one here.

Following the fourth installment in the Posner on Posner series of posts, someone commented on a point Judge Posner made in response to a question posed to him by Professor Kathryn Watts. That comment is set out below. Following it are excerpts from Judge Posner’s 1997 Michigan Law Review essay critiquing Professor William Eskridge’s The Case for Same-Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment (1996). Accompanying them are some excerpts from Judge Posner’s opinion Baskin v. Bogan (7th Cir., Sept. 4, 2104, cert. denied and cert denied sub nom., 135 S. Ct. 316) in which he struck down two state laws banning same-sex marriage.

judgeposner_2010All of this is offered up duly mindful what Judge Posner said in a July of 2014 interview: “I’ve changed my views a lot over the years. I’m much less reactionary than I used to be. I was opposed to homosexual marriage in my book Sex and Reason (1992) [see here re those arguments], which was still the dark ages regarding public opinion of homosexuality. Public opinion changed radically in the years since. My views have changed about a lot of things.”

Of course, those comments from his 2014 interview with Joel Cohen were rendered before the Baskin case came before his court. Since the same-sex marriage cases are not  before the Supreme Court for review, I did not ask the Judge to comment on the matter.

That said, I begin with the online commentators remarks and will thereafter proceed to offer some excerpts:

  1. from Posner’s Sex and Reason (S&R)
  2. his Michigan Law Review essay (MLR)
  3. his Baskin opinion (BB), and
  4. some excerpts from the petition (CP) filed by the Attorney General of Indiana in Baskin since it references Judge Posner’s Michigan Law Review Essay and does so in support of its arguments for reversing the Seventh Circuit’s ruling.

Before offering any excerpts, however, I offer a historical sketch of the legal context in which Judge Posner found himself when he first wrote his book and law review essay and thereafter when he wrote his Baskin opinion.  

(Note: Some of the links below will open in Firefox and Chrome but not in Safari.)

Praise for Posner: On Judges Educating the Public

LGBT (12-3-14)Judge Posner, I am thinking you will probably read comments so I am taking this opportunity to reach out to you and sincerely thank you for your decision on the Wisconsin & Indiana cases on Gay Marriage. Your ruling was a Tour de Force (!) that got quoted & re-quoted all over the gay blogosphere. The lawyers and other Judges will remember other things you did, but the PUBLIC will remember your decision in the Gay Marriage cases. This will be the opinion that will be cited in the History books. And what was REALLY GREAT is how fast you turned it around. It was oral arguments, then BAM! . . .”

“How wrong you are when you say in your interview, ‘it’s unrealistic for judges to try to educate the general public. I don’t think the general public is interested in anything about judicial opinions except who won the case.’ Not in the Gay Marriage cases; the interest is not simply that we won, but WHY we won. Your words have been copied and pasted all over the gay blogosphere. I know that there is one gay website that gets 30 million hits a year, just that one site. Trust me your opinion was read by millions. It wasn’t simply who won, but WHY the gays won. It was validation to them, they read it and felt validated. You told them they were Equal, and that raised a lot of emotions. Tears were shed, a lot of them. People were commenting how they were reading your opinion and crying, it was very emotional for many, many people. Your opinion will most certainly go down in the history books on the history of the Gay Rights Movement. And I thank you deeply for it.”

______________________

The Historical Backdrop

UnknownTurn the clock back to 1992, the time when then Judge Posner published Sex and Reason. That was before the Hawaii Supreme Court’s seminal ruling in Baehr v. Lewin (1993) in which it ruled that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated the equality of rights provision of the state constitution unless the state could demonstrate a compelling interest for such discrimination. And the year before Posner published his Michigan Law Review essay (when Eskridge taught at Georgetown), President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. Recall, that law permitted the states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages and remained on the books until Section 3 of the Act was declared unconstitutional by a 5-4 margin in United States v. Windsor. In 1999 Vermont Supreme Court took the lead in ordering the state legislature to establish laws permitting same-sex marriages (Baker v. Vermont was the case). In 2000 the Vermont legislature enacted just such a law, making Vermont the first state in the Union to recognize same-sex marriages.

 As for guidance from the Supreme Court, recall that Romer v. Evans (a rather confusing opinion by a divided Court) was handed down in 1996 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.

Different Domains: Scholarly Opinions vs Judicial Opinions 

If pursued with characteristic Posnerian relentlessness, [several of his] premises [in Sex and Reason] could yield radically pro-gay policies. But Posner does not press his analysis and, instead, neglects his stated first principles. His treatment of gaylegal issues tends to collapse into well-meaning ad hoc-ness.

[R]epealing sodomy laws and outlawing overt discrimination against bisexuals, gay men, and lesbians are easy cases for a rationalist, libertarian analysis. But a tough-minded cost-benefit analysis [such as the one Posner employs] would not stop with the easiest cases. Recognizing the same constitutional right to privacy for same-sex intimacy as is accorded different-sex intimacy, ending the military’s exclusion of bisexuals, gay men, and lesbians, and requiring states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples are conclusions that are scarcely less compelling under Posner’s first principles. Yet Posner himself rejects or avoids these latter conclusions. And he does not even discuss other issues of profound importance to lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities.                        – William Eskridge (1992)

Professor William Eskridge

Professor William Eskridge

One does not have to defend Richard Posner’s early views on same-sex marriage to concede the obvious: it was a different legal world. Still, a new legal order was emerging as evidenced by two noteworthy pieces by Professor William Eskridge: First, his 1992 Yale Law Journal review essay of Sex and Reason, and second, his 1993 Virginia Law Review article, “A History of Same-Sex Marriage.” And then there was Professor Robin West’s critical 1993 Georgetown Law Journal review essay on Sex and Reason.

 Richard Posner, an intermediate appellate judge, was not then a part of that emerging order. As a jurist he yielded, so he asserted, to the dictates of judicial modesty. While such dictates understandably restricted the direction of his judicial opinions, they need not have dictated the direction of his scholarly opinions in which he often demonstrated a unique cerebral bravado and a willingness to be a maverick in forging creative arguments. Moreover, in his capacity as a public intellectual and legal scholar, Posner was quite outspoken in refuting the critics of his work. See, e.g., his “The Radical Feminist Critique of Sex and Reason” (1993) article. In all of this, it is important to note that Posner nonetheless: (1) favored decriminalizing homosexual sex; (2) endorsed contracts of cohabitation for same-sex couples; and (3) was fine with legislative enactments legalizing same-sex marriage.

Thus, prior to the oral arguments in Baskin v. Bogan and the opinion in that case, what Posner had written in Sex and Reason and in his Michigan Law Review essay gave a meaningful degree of legal legitimacy to the campaign to oppose same-sex marriage. As late as 2004, Posner’s arguments were reproduced in a collection of essays (edited by Andrew Sullivan and first published in 1997) on same sex-marriage. And then there is his 2005 statement quoted at the outset of this post. It took nearly 17 years after the Michigan Law Review essay was published before Judge Posner expressed any significantly different views, first in a 2014 interview and then in a 2014 judicial opinion. Why so long?

A pragmatic reformer is concerned with what works and therefore cannot ignore public opinion or political realities just because the things he wants to change are not rooted in nature but instead are “mere” constructs. — Richard Posner (1995)

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On Judicial Reputation: More Questions for Judge Posner

Successful people often are insecure (though they may hide their insecurity behind a facade of bluster); it is what drives them to success. — Richard Posner (1994)

We are experts in self-presentation, in acting a part to further our aims and interests. We have, all of us, a public relations strategy.  Richard Posner (May 5, 2011)

I have never yearned for greatness!  Richard Posner (November 26, 2014)

This is the eighth installment in the “Posner on Posner” series of posts on Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, and the seventh one here.

In Judge Richard Posner’s The Essential Holmes, he echoed a line from Oliver Wendell Holmes concerning John Marshall. This is that line: “A great man represents a great ganglion in the nerves of society, or to vary the figure, a strategic point in the campaign of history, and part of his greatness consists in his being there.”

Holmes’s resort to the word “ganglion” (meaning a swelling, or mass of nerve cell bodies, or a nerve cell cluster) is rather opaque — his use of the term is not readily apparent. But to tease the Holmesian metaphor out a bit, part of a judge’s greatness depends on a willingness and ability to successfully affect or change the nerve center of a society. In other words, a true capacity to alter something central. The alternative Holmesian account of greatness hinges on a combination of strategy and timing (or one might say Fortuna). That is, judicial reputation depends on a special ability to seize the perfect moment and act boldly – the case of John Marshall, circa, 1803, comes immediately to mind.

Surprisingly, to talk with Richard Posner one might assume from what he says in his all-too-causal manner that he has little or no interest in greatness or judicial reputation as it pertains to him. Strange from a man who has written on book on judicial reputation (not to be confused, he tells us, with judicial greatness) and who in so many ways seems to have a will for greatness. But don’t believe it, he admonishes us emphatically: “I have never yearned for greatness!”  

According to Judge Posner, Cardozo was a highly reputed jurist and Holmes was a great jurist. But what of Posner? Silence. Apparently, he doesn’t care to discuss it. Why? Perhaps because as a maverick jurist (and he is surely that), he cannot appear to seek public approval. And yet, if one were to invoke his own criteria for measuring judicial reputation, Judge Posner would rank quite high. (See e.g., Ronald Collins & David O’Brien, “Gauging Reputations, National Law Journal, pp. 13-14, April 1, 1991, and Lawrence Cunningham, “Cardozo and Posner: A Study in Contracts,” William & Mary Law Review (1985).) Fine, he might say, brushing it off with a disinterested look. And what of his legal legacy? Of that he claims to care not: “I have absolutely no interest in my posthumous reputation,” he assures us.

So there you have him: a great jurist (or should I say a highly reputed jurist?) who really does not care a bit about being seen as great. Speaking of that subject, see Richard Posner, “The Hand Biography and the Question of Judicial Greatness,” 104 Yale Law Journal 511, (1994).

All that said, in what follows, Judge Posner says a few things about these matters in connection with various American jurists.

Note: Some of the links used below will open in Firefox and Chrome but not in Safari.

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Max Lerner

Max Lerner

Question: In his book Nine Scorpions in a Bottle (1994), the late Max Lerner asserted: “There is no recipe for judicial greatness. Yet, if hard-pressed, I should settle for someone with a flexible mind, a compassion for the walking wounded, a refusal to be cowed by power, a capacity to live with the contradictions of life and to separate the permanent from the transient.” And then he added: “That is what I should call a passionately judicial temperament, and only a few have had it.” Before we turn to your own particular views on the subject, what is your opinion of Mr. Lerner’s recipe (albeit tentative) for judicial greatness?

Posner: [As for Lerner’s formula for greatness, I find it] a little puffed up. Forget greatness. A very good judge is a judge who is well educated and intelligent, hard working, willing to write his own opinions, curious about the real-world activities, transactions, and institutions out of which the cases he hears arise, collegial, and aware (so far as anyone can be aware) of his limitations and of the influences that play on him as a result of his upbringing, ideology, career, and temperament.

Posner on the Criteria for Judicial Greatness

For one thing the criteria of judicial greatness are contested. Some might insist that a judge’s greatness consists in the “rightness” of his decisions as judged by the test of time. I think that this is too demanding a standard. Most judicial decisions, even of the agreed-to-be-the-greatest judges, like most scientific discoveries, even of the universally acknowledged greatest scientists, usually are superseded and in that sense eventually proved “wrong.” I believe that the test of greatness for the substance of judicial decisions, therefore, should be, as in the case of science, the contribution that the decisions make to the development of legal rules and principles rather than whether the decision is a “classic” having the permanence and perfection of a work of art. . . Creativity is .  . . one possible criterion ofjudicial greatness. Another . . . . is the gift of verbal facility that enables a familiar proposition to be expressed memorably, arrestingly, thus enforcing attention, facilitating comprehension, and, often, stimulating new thought (in which case the expressive dimension of judicial greatness merges with the creative). [Source here]

Question: Almost a quarter-century ago you called on scholars to pay considerably more attention to “critical judicial study” by way of quantitative analysis of judicial reputation, influence, and achievement. Do you think that call has been heeded?

Posner: A little, not a great deal.

UnknownQuestion: The quantitative analysis you employed in Cardozo: A Study in Reputation (1990) turned largely, and understandably so, on a judge’s reputation within the legal community. But greatness surely extends beyond the confines of that domain and into the larger public realm. How is judicial reputation to be gauged at that macro level? And how does that pursuit of greatness differ, if at all, from one confined to the legal community?

Posner: No one outside the legal profession (with the intermittent exception of politicians) is interested in judges other than Supreme Court Justices. I don’t think it’s healthy for judges to worry about what lay people think of them.

Question: Most judges, you contend, “would rather be regarded as sound than as original, as appliers of the law rather than inventors of it. Judges find it politic to pretend that they are the slaves of the law, never its masters and the competitors of legislators.” If a judge takes that creed of moderation seriously, is such a jurist likely to be heralded as great?

Posner: As I said earlier, forget greatness. The judges who adopt the pretense will be respected by many other judges and applauded by legislators, who don’t like the idea of judges making law, though judges to make a great deal of law.

Question: You have suggested that “rhetorical power may be a more important attribute of judicial excellence than analytical power.” Why? And should that be so?

Posner: The analytical issues presented by cases are rarely complex or difficult, though lawyers and judges and law professors try to make them seem so. The insights of the excellent judges tend to be the result of intuition, experience, and temperament rather than of analysis, and the rhetorical power in which they are expressed are important to the persuasiveness and reception of the insights.

None of the [current Justices] has any empirical, technical background. They’re just humanities majors. Richard Posner, Oct. 23, 2014, University of Chicago Law School remarks.

Question: In terms of his position in American law, what single trait do you think best helps to explain Chief Justice John Marshall’s revered and lasting reputation?

Posner: He had a great deal of common sense and government experience, and he wrote forcefully and lucidly.

Justice Joseph Story

Justice Joseph Story

Question: By the time he died in 1845, Justice Joseph Story published twenty-one books after his three-volume Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, which was a major legal work for its time and long afterwards. And he authored some important opinions such as Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (1816), Swift v. Tyson (1842), and Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842). And yet, today the man and his work seem to be largely forgotten. Why do you suppose that is?

Posner: I don’t know. I’ve never read anything by him. Prompted by your question, I read his opinion in Swift v. Tyson. I thought it was well written, though not as well written as Marshall’s opinions.

[RC: Consider Bernard Schwartz, “Supreme Court Superstars: The Ten Greatest Justices” (1995) (ranking Story as second greatest Justice.]

Question: I was struck by how much the reputational stock of some of the judges and scholars you listed in Tables 1-4 of your Cardozo book has dropped since you published that work in 1990. Is judicial reputation thus akin, at least in some general way, to the rise-and-fall celebrity stardom of, say, the Michael Jackson variety? If so, how does a judge best secure a reputation that lasts over generational time?

Posner: The decline is experienced by almost all judges, simply because law changes as society changes, and the old cases cease to have any relevance. Well-written opinions have the best survival chances, because the quality of the writing is independent of the currency or importance of the issues.

Question: The filaments of Holmes’ thought, you maintain, included “Nietzschean vitalism.” Tell us more about that and why you think it important. Read More

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On Free Expression & the First Amendment — More Questions for Judge Posner

 The American concept of freedom of speech poses a challenge to the pragmatist because, like ‘democracy,’ it is the repository of a great deal of unpragmatic rhetoric. It is at the heart of the American ‘civil religion,’ a term well chosen to convey the moralistic fervor in which free speech is celebrated. — Richard Posner (2003)

This is the sixth installment in the “Posner on Posner” series of posts on Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, and the fifth one here.  

Here, as elsewhere, controversy is never far from the conceptual corner where Richard Posner lingers. Merely consider, for example, the following point he made in a 2001 article: “political free speech is not an unalloyed blessing.” Or consider his take on the most famous line from NYT v. Sullivan — he tags it (see below) “empty rhetoric.” Or think about his views on privacy and the First Amendment (see Glenn Greenwald’s criticisms below). Such comments are sure to raise skeptical eyebrows among the rah-rah First Amendment crowd.

Then again, that crowd happily hails the Judge for the robust defense of free speech he displayed in NAACP v. Button (1963), which he takes credit for authoring while he was a law clerk to Justice William Brennan. And then there are his opinions in cases such  American Amusement Machine Association v. Kendrick, the violent video game case. For staunch conservatives, such as Justice Clarence Thomas, protection of such expression “does not comport with the original public understanding of the First Amendment.” No matter, Posner paves his own path, sans any Hugo Black-like passion in defense of free speech or any Clarence Thomas-like zeal in defense of originalism.  

Of course, there is more to be said about Posner’s pragmatic approach to our free speech jurisprudence, and on that score some will approve and others not. In the tumble of it all, he remains a Maverick, which is how he likes it.  

Some of the Judge’s more notable writings on free expression can be found in the following works:

  1. Economic Analysis of Law (9th ed. 2014) (chapter 29)
  2. Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of a National Emergency (2009) (chapter 5)
  3. Law, Pragmatism and Democracy (2003) (chapter 10)
  4. Frontiers of Legal Theory (2001) (chapter 2)
  5. The Speech Market and the Legacy of Schenck,” in Lee Bollinger & Geoffrey Stone, eds., Eternally Vigilant: Free Speech in the Modern Era 121 (2002)
  6. Pragmatism versus Purposivism in First Amendment Analysis,” 54 Stanford Law Review 737 (2002)
  7. Free Speech in an Economic Perspective,” 20 Suffolk University Law Review 1 (1986)

For a sampling of his First Amendment opinions, go here and search “First Amendment.”

Below are some questions, on the topic of free expression and the First Amendment, that I posed to the Judge followed by his replies. (Note: Some links will only open in Firefox or Chrome.)

NB: A segment of this post, quoting a well-known journalist, has been temporarily omitted because of a strong objection. I will explain why in this Monday’s post.      

Question: Is speech overprotected by our courts and in our culture?

Posner: I think so. The most notorious example is expenditures on political advertising — Citizens United and its sequels.

Question: Though the Pentagon Papers Case (1971) is much celebrated in First Amendment circles, you seem to think that the Court might have gone too far. Two questions:

  1. What is your criticism of the case?
  2. Does over classification of national security information raise a a First Amendment issue?

Posner:

  1. I don’t think there is a right to read classified material. National security classification is one of many sensible exceptions to freedom of speech, along with threats, trade secrets, defamation, distribution of child pornography, lawful wiretapping and other lawful searches for communicative material, copyright infringement, and much else.
  2. It could, if there were no security justification.

Question: The so-called “war on terrorism” is unlike the Great Wars in that the enemy is ever changing and even hard to identify and the duration of the conflict is indeterminate. How does this affect the calculus of free speech “in wartime”?

Posner: I don’t see why the nature of the military conflict should make a difference.

Question: You have written that “some restrictions on speech actually promote speech.” That general idea seems to be getting some traction among egalitarian-minded liberal scholars dissatisfied with certain tenets of current free speech doctrine. Can you say more about your thinking here, especially as it might apply to the liberal defense of speech restrictions?

Posner: An obvious example is copyright protection, which restricts speech (the speech of copiers) but promotes speech overall by granting legal protection to original speech. Another obvious example is restricting the number of speakers in a political debate so that the debate won’t degenerate into an unintelligible babble of interruptions. Similarly one doesn’t want to allow the use of threats to silence people. A subtle example is the censorship of the Elizabethan theatre, which may well have promoted creativity by forcing playwrights like Shakespeare to situate contemporary problems in exotic times and places, in order to get by the censor.

Question: You pride yourself on being a “balancer,” as one who compares the social pluses and minuses of restrictions on free speech. Can you be an effective balancer absent a reliable record of the actual or even conjectural harms and benefits of speech? And what if the lawyers, as if often the case, tender no reliable empirical evidence one way or the other? Who wins, where is the conceptual default? Or must the reviewing court do its own research to resolve the question?

Posner: I don’t know how much empirical work has been done on the subject. In its absence, there is just guesswork, although the basic structure of American free speech law seems okay. Some of it strikes me as silly, notably granting rights of free speech to school kids.

[RKLC: 12-12-14: See William Baude’s commentary here.]

Question: Whatever its shortcomings, one of the benefits of a category-based approach to free speech (combined with certain tailoring tools, e.g., overbreath, etc.), is judicial efficiency. The rules are not unworkably open-ended and subjective, and are therefore relatively manageable for judges and lawyers alike.

  1. Mindful of that, how judicially efficient is your economic-based approach with its assorted variables? – e.g., taking into account and balancing the relevant benefits (B), harms (H), offensiveness (O), probability (P), the number of years between when speech occurs and when the harm is likely to materialize, and the administrative costs of a regulation (A).
  2. What about lawmakers, the focus of the First Amendment (Congress shall make no law . . . )? How likely are they to engage in such sophisticated cost-benefit analysis? Is your proposed approach a realistic test for them to employ in considering the constitutionality of proposed laws affecting speech?

Posner:

  1. One can hardly exclude offensiveness, other harms, probability of harm, remoteness of harm, etc. from consideration, any more than you can do that in an ordinary tort case.
  2. Do lawmakers ever do sophisticated cost-benefit analysis?

Question: In cases such as Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010), is the purported harm so great as to preclude any meaningful balancing? It was precisely that concern that prompted Justice Stephen Breyer to complain in dissent: “I believe the Court has failed to examine the Government’s justifications with sufficient care. It has failed to insist upon specific evidence, rather than general assertion.”

How would you weigh in on this? By your standards, was Holder a case of failed balancing?

Judge Learned Hand

Judge Learned Hand

Posner: I haven’t read the case.

Question: You have expressed some conceptual approval of Judge Learned Hand’s opinion in United States v. Dennis (1950) in which he upheld the convictions of eleven Communist Party leaders for violating the Smith Act. Do you agree with the judgment in that case? Please say a few words about why you agree or disagree with the Dennis judgment.

Posner: Hand’s formula in Dennis is I think fine—it is a variant of the famous Hand negligence formula from his opinion in Carroll Towing. The Communist Party leaders were essentially agents of the Soviet Union, so I don’t see why their speech should be thought privileged by the First Amendment.

Question: Don’t phrases like “clear and present danger” (which, by the way, was used by the attorney Benjamin W. Shaw in 1918) invite, as Paul Freund suggested in 1949, a kind of mantra-like application devoid of the kind of realist and pragmatic balancing you endorse?

Posner:  It’s a dumb phrase. A murky remote danger could be very great.

Question: Based on what you know in light of the book you edited on Holmes, did he get the judgments right in Schenck, Frohwerk and Debs?

Posner: Probably not in Schenck or Debs; I don’t recall Frohwerk.

Question: “Thus we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open . . . .”

Do you consider those lines from New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) to be “unpragmatic rhetoric”?

Posner: Empty rhetoric.

 Question: The Rehnquist and Roberts Courts have said relatively little about textualism when it comes to free speech and press issues. Why do you suppose that is?

Posner: There is no text. “Freedom of speech” is a heading, not a test.

Chief Justice John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts

Question: The Roberts Court has rendered 36 First Amendment free expression rulings. How would you characterize the First Amendment jurisprudence of the current Court?

Posner: Very nice for fat cats and enemies of abortion.

Question: You have long been on record as being a critic of the Court’s decision in Buckley v. Valeo (1976). You maintain that the “American system of campaign financing is extremely porous and is widely and probably correctly believed to constitute a thinly disguised system of quasi-bribes of elected officials; at the very least it tilts the playing field very steeply toward the wealthy and the well organized . . . .” Given that, how bad in your view have things become in light of rulings such as McCutcheon v. FEC (2014)?

Posner: Very bad.

Question: Do you favor some kind of constitutional amendment to remedy the problems you have identified

Posner: [The idea of a constitutional amendment is] a waste of time.

Posner on Roberts

Can so naive-seeming a conception of the political process reflect the actual beliefs of the intellectually sophisticated Chief Justice? Maybe so, but one is entitled to be skeptical. Obviously, wealthy businessmen and large corporations often make substantial political contributions in the hope (often fulfilled) that by doing so they will be buying the support of politicians for policies that yield financial benefits to the donors. [Source here]

Question: In his dissent in McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), Justice Breyer declared: “the First Amendment advances not only the individual’s right to engage in political speech, but also the public’s interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.” What is you view on this idea “collective speech” and the First Amendment?

Posner: A little high-falutin’ for my taste. I would just say that large corporations and wealthy people shouldn’t be allowed to buy elections.

Question: Despite your criticisms of Buckley and its progeny, you have also expressed serious doubts about campaign finance reform proposals. Please explain why you think such efforts are problematic.

Posner: Have I? I don’t recall

Question: In Frontiers of Legal Theory you wrote: “Individuals or groups that have more money than the average amount of money have always had more than the average ability to spend money on trying to influence public opinion. We do not consider such inequality a compelling reason for limiting free speech.” Do you still believe that?

Posner: The mere fact of inequality is not critical. And it would be very difficult for a new candidate to get launched without access to substantial donors. The problems are the concealment of the identity of big donors, the implicit quid pro quo (donor is buying influence, and donee who is not influenced is unlikely to obtain substantial future donations), and the failure to place some ceiling on the amount of donations that a particular individual should be free to make. And I doubt that companies as distinct from individuals should be permitted to make campaign contributions.

Question: As you know, the speech in question in Citizens United involved a political documentary titled Hillary: The Movie. A conservative non-profit group sought to air it within 30 days of the primary. During oral arguments in the case, the question was asked: “What if the particular movie involved here had not been distributed by Video on Demand? Suppose that people could view it for free on Netflix over the Internet? Suppose that free DVDs were passed out. Suppose people could attend the movie for free in a movie theater; suppose the exact text of this was distributed in a printed form.”

 How would you answer that question? Is it your position that showing that political documentary and/or publishing a book on it during an election is not protected speech under the First Amendment?

Posner: The question is the scope of protection. I don’t think the First Amendment should be interpreted to prevent government from limiting the amount of broadcasting (or equivalent, like movies) in the last few weeks before a national election.

Question: What is your view of the secondary effects doctrine as it has been applied by the Court and lower courts since its use in Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc. (1986) and then again in Barnes v. Glen Theatre (1991), which overruled an opinion that you authored. In 1988, your former boss, Justice William Brennan, warned that the doctrine “could set the court on a road that will lead to the evisceration of First Amendment freedoms.” Do you agree? Where do you stand on this matter?

Posner: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it if it is supported by real evidence, though I think it was misapplied in the Barnes case because there wasn’t any evidence that nude dancing promotes crime to any significant extent.

The next installment, the seventh, in the Posner on Posner series was scheduled to be “On Judicial Reputation.” It will now be preceded by a special post on free speech and privacy.  

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On legal education & legal scholarship — More questions for Judge Posner

We should not allow complacency about the American university system to blind us to the weaknesses in legal education.

I am not starry-eyed about the new interdisciplinary legal scholarship. [Even so,] where is it written that all legal scholarship shall be in the service of the legal profession? 

The decline in doctrinal scholarship is relative, not absolute, and perhaps not even relative; all that may be occurring is a shift in the production of doctrinal scholarship toward scholars at law schools of the second and third tier.

Richard Posner (1995)

This is the fifth installment in the “Posner on Posner” series of posts on Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here, the second here, the third here, and the fourth one here.  

Richard Posner’s scholarly career in law may have started in 1961-62 when he served on the Harvard Law Review, first as a staff member and then as the President. During that period he published on topics as diverse as a note on the application of international law to outer space (74 HLR 1154), a comment on federal review of state law rulings (74 HLR 1375), a comment patent and antitrust law (75 HLR 602), and a comment on the application of law to religiously owned property (75 HLR). After his clerkship with Justice William Brennan (1962-63 Term) and several jobs with the federal government, he began his professorial career at Stanford Law School in 1969 and thereafter ventured off to the University of Chicago Law School where he is currently a senior lecturer in law. Over the years he has taught antitrust, economic analysis of law, civil procedure, conflict of laws, law and science, evidence, and law and literature.

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 2.03.58 PMOne of his articles ranked 64th in the list of the most-cited law review articles of all time. In the field of antitrust law, one his articles (co-authored with William Landes) ranked second in the listings of the most-cited law review articles. (Posner had his own system of rankings.  See here) Even more impressive, as reported by Fred R. Shapiro and Michelle Pears, “[a]s of 2000, Judge Posner was the most often-cited legal scholar of all time with 7,981 citations, nearly 50 percent more than anyone else.”

In the last half-century or so, Posner has published a wide variety of scholarly works in the form of books (40-plus) and articles (300-plus) – perhaps more than any academic writing in the field of American law. In that array of legal literature he has written much on the topic of legal education and legal scholarship. See, for example, the following nine articles by him:

  1. The Present Situation in Legal Scholarship,” 90 Yale Law Journal 1113 (1981)
  2. The Decline of Law as an Autonomous Discipline,” 100 Harvard Law Review 761 (1987)
  3. The Deprofessionalization of Legal Teaching and Scholarship,” 91 Michigan Law Review 1921 (1993)
  4. The Future of the Student-Edited Law Review,” 47 Stanford Law Review 1131 (1994)
  5. William M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, “Heavily Cited Articles in Law,” 71 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 825 (1996)
  6. Past-Dependency, Pragmatism, and Critique of History in Adjudication and Legal Scholarship,” 67 University of Chicago Law Review 573 (2000)
  7. Legal Scholarship Today,” 115 Harvard Law Review 1314 (2002)
  8. Against Law Reviews,” Legal Affairs, Nov-Dec. 2004
  9. The State of Legal Scholarship Today: A Comment on Schlag,” 97 Georgetown Law Journal 845 (2009)

Below are some questions on the topics of legal education and legal scholarship I posed to the Judge followed by his replies. (Note: Some links will open in Firefox or Chrome but not in Safari.)

 __________________________

Question: What do you think is the single greatest shortcoming of legal education in America today?

Posner: There are several shortcomings; I don’t know how to rank them.

  1. Legal education is too expensive, in part because law school faculties are too large.
  2. Not enough law professors, especially at the elite law schools, have substantial practical experience as lawyers, and
  3. Law school teaching focuses excessively on legal doctrine, to the exclusion of adequate attention to facts, business practices, science and technology, psychology, judicial mentality and behavior, legal practice, and application of legal principles.

Question: Insofar as the teaching of legal ethics is concerned, is teaching the rules of professional responsibility and the cases interpreting them enough in your opinion? Or should some significant attention be devoted to familiarizing law students with some of the great works of the Western Philosophical tradition? – say, to Plato’s Gorgias or Aristotle’s Rhetoric (see here at p. 1924)

Posner:  I don’t consider instruction in legal ethics an important part of legal education. Aristotle’s Rhetoric is pertinent to the rhetorical dimension of legal practice, rather than to legal ethics. Gorgias can be read as critical of lawyers’ tricks, though there were no lawyers as such in fourth century b.c. Athens.

Question:  It has been argued that legal education is akin to learning a form of science. In what ways, if any, does it make sense to speak of the study of law as the study of legal science?

Posner: Law has nothing to do with science. It involves making and applying rules of conduct; the rules are based on legislative and other political decisions, common sense, societal values, judges’ personal preferences, intuition, rhetoric—not logical or scientific rigor.

Question: All things considered, what do you think of calls for reducing law school education to two years?

Posner:  I think that would be fine. A third year might be offered, but as something to be taken after the two-year graduate has spent some time in practice and wants some specialized further training.

Question: In your opinion, how, if at all, has the role of the law school dean changed in the past half-century? And if it has changed, what do you make of it?

Posner: Much more emphasis on fund raising.

Question: In Tagatz v. Marquette University (1988) you noted that tenure “tends to take some of the edge off academic ambition.” What are your views on the current tenure system as it operates in law schools and how, if at all, might you change it?

Posner: Tenure is a form of nonmonetary compensation, hence attractive to universities. The downside is it undermines the work ethic. I don’t know whether the benefits exceed the costs.

Question: (1) What are your views concerning affirmative action and tenure standards when it comes to promoting racial minorities? And do democratic principles justify bending evaluative standards?

(2) Is the problem of race the problem of the evaluative standards that law schools employ? If so, what is the alternative?

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 11.45.07 PMPosner:  (1) The only racial minority in the United States that needs affirmative action is the African-American minority. I doubt, though, that African-Americans who have the competence to be considered as law professors need a boost.

(2) I think law schools should give more weight to practical experience in hiring law professors, but I don’t think this relates particularly to African-Americans.

Question: Many years ago you wrote: “not all blacks are culturally black.” Would you a say a bit more about what you meant by that and do you still hold to that view? In answering that question, do you think that one can ever fully escape the consequences of his or her color even if one is, as you put it, an “assimilated black”?

Posner: I’m sure that almost all African-Americans are conscious of and think occasionally about being black—that’s inevitable given history, and it’s the same reason that secular Jews, who may have zero interest in Judaism or Jewish culture, remain conscious of being Jewish. But successful upper-middle-class African-Americans are so much like their white counterparts as not to be preoccupied with the racial difference.

Question: Is Socratic “cold call” method dying in law schools? Or is it already largely dead? If so, is this a good thing? Your views? Read More

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The Man Behind the Robes — A Q&A with Richard Posner

I myself am a counterrevolutionary. I am not eager to be sent to the countryside to do farm work while wearing a dunce cap. (2009)

I’m much less reactionary than I used to be. (2014)   – Richard Posner

This is the third in a series of posts on Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here, and the second one here. (My interest in Judge Posner goes back almost a quarter century. See Ronald Collins & David O’Brien, “Gauging Reputations, National Law Journal, pp. 13-14, April 1, 1991 (commenting on Posner’s Cardozo book).)  

The measure of a man is gauged in different ways. For some, it moves along a spectrum of social approval. For others, it is personal perfection. For a few, it is mastery — that ability to excel in one’s life calling. And then there are those who take public service seriously. For yet others, it is legacy – that long story after the life story. In that journey, whatever one’s direction and destination, a few are bold into the fray, others calculating into the conflict, and still others are quiet into the clash. How we measure them depends on where we stand, how we judge the end game, and just how impartial we are. Then again, how we judge someone may reveal more about us than the person being judged. Bear all that in mind as you read the words of the man — an atypical  man — who is the focus of this and the other interviews.  

Richard Posner

Allen Richard Posner (see below)

How, then, to measure Richard Posner? It is not an easy task; he is complex. Because of that it is easy to misjudge him. Up close, Posner is unusual. For one thing, his candor can be unnerving. Thus, his personality in one-on-one situations can be odd, unless one is attuned to him, which requires being on his psychological wavelength. For another thing, he is somewhat unconstrained by many social mores. He is, for better or worse, a take-me-as-I-am sort of individual. But give him distance from the province of personality (conventionally defined), and he works well in the world of rules and reasons. That is his domain. In that realm, he appreciates informed judgment and delights in being daring. True to his cerebral bent, he loves to be rational (tag it Aristotelian eros), even if it leaves him the odd man out. In that sense, there is something peculiarly fascinating about him – that rara avis who seizes our attention even when we tend to turn away.    

What follows are the first in a series of questions I posed to the Judge about his life and life views. (Note: Some links will open in Firefox or Chrome but not in Safari.)

 ____________________________

Question:    Were you born Richard Allen Posner, or was Allen your first name? [Hat tip to Professor Peter Irons.]

Posner:       That’s true [about being named Allen]. But my parents always called me ‘Dick.'” [RC: The Judge has his law clerks address him as his parents did.]

Question:   You were exceptionally revealing in the New Yorker profile that Larissa MacFarquhar did back in 2001 – the story in which, among other things, you described yourself as “an imperfectly house-broken pet.” You also compared yourself to your late Dinah, “playfulbut with a streak of cruelty.” (Dinah has since died.) Two questions:

  1. Why? What prompted such unconventional candor?
  2. Do you have any regrets?

Posner:

  1. Larissa was very skillful at extracting unguarded comments from me. She is an excellent reporter. [RC: In a 2003 interview with Howard Bashman, Judge Posner said: “MacFarquhar. . . exaggerated my role in the law and economics movement, but that’s fine!”]
  2. No.

Question:      In what respects are you most like and unlike your parents?

Posner:         I share my mother’s love of literature, and my parents’ lack of religiosity (I believe the word “God” was never mentioned in our home). My father [Max] was introverted, like me. I didn’t share my parents’ politics, which were extremely left-wing. It’s unrealistic to think me much like my parents, as they were born in 1900 and 1901 respectively, into central European families with no money who immigrated shortly afterward to the United States. There is no comparison to my situation at and after birth, by which time (1939) my parents were prosperous, educated, and completely assimilated Americans.

Cleanth Brooks

Cleanth Brooks

Question:    You were an English major at Yale College and did your senior thesis under Cleanth Brooks (the famed figure of literary criticism). Your thesis was on William Butler Yeats’s late poetry. Why English, why Yeats? And tell us a little bit more about you senior thesis – its title and scope.

Posner:   My mother [Blanche] was a high school English teacher and started me off on literature when I was an infant — she read Homer and Shakespeare to me from a very early age. I majored in English at Yale because I was already steeped in literature and Yale had the best English department in the country. I discovered Yeats’ poetry and loved it and still do. I don’t recall the title of my senior thesis. I do recall the principal theme, which was that his poetry was “reflexive,” in the sense that much of it, I thought, despite its ostensible subject matter, was about poetry itself, which after all he new best.

Question:   What was your draft status? How did you navigate the whole military service matter?

Posner:    Deferment was automatic in my day (before the Vietnam War heated up) while one was a student. My first job after graduating from law school was as a law clerk at the Supreme Court. Justice Brennan, my boss, wrote a letter to my draft board before I started the clerkship asking it to defer me for the clerkship, which it did (it didn’t have to). During my clerkship year my wife had our first baby, and at the time (1963) that was an automatic deferment. I never heard further from anyone about the draft.

Alex Bickel

Alex Bickel

Question:    When you were the president of the Harvard Law Review (vol. 75, 1961-62), several prominent persons (e.g., Alexander Bickel, Felix Frankfurter, and Henry Friendly) published on your watch. Do you have any memorable stories you might share with us?

Posner:      Bickel was not a Harvard Law School professor (Yale instead), and I broke with tradition in asking him to write the Foreword to the Supreme Court section in the first issue.

I also got into some trouble with the faculty over publishing a very critical review by Frederick Bernays Wiener of an excellent revision [of Wigmore’s evidence treatise] by John T. McNaughton, one of the law school’s professors (later a key aide to Robert McNamara in the Vietnam War).

Question:       Were there any professors you had at Harvard who stood out in your mind? If so, who were they and why do you remember them?

Posner:         There were a number of excellent professors: in no particular order they were Paul Bator, John Mansfield, Abraham Kaplan, Derek Bok, Donald Turner, Walter Bart Leach, and (probably the best) John Dawson. I may have forgotten some others who were good. Turner’s field was antitrust, and he had a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. We were friendly. To some extent, he sparked my interest in economic analysis of law.

Question:       How did Paul Freund come to select you for a clerkship with Brennan?

Posner:        He was an informal adviser to the law review so I got to know him pretty well, though I never had him in class. I was the president of the law review and the highest-ranking student by grades, so I was a natural pick for a Supreme Court clerkship. I didn’t apply—he just picked me. I actually wasn’t particularly interested in clerking.

Question:       You worked with Thurgood Marshall while he was Solicitor General. What was your opinion of Mr. Marshall back then?

Posner on Thurgood Marshall

He was a good boss in the sense that he backed the staff, which of course was all I cared about, but had rather little interest in the job. It was just a stepping-stone job. He had been a great trial lawyer, and I don’t think appellate law interested him particularly. Before becoming SG he was on the Second Circuit briefly, and after he was S.G. he, of course, was on the Supreme Court. I don’t think any of those jobs drew on his strengths, which as I say was as a trial lawyer.

 Question:      While in the S.G.’s Office you argued nine cases before the Supreme Court. Do any of those case stand out in your mind? Are you especially proud of your performance in any of them?

Posner:          I remember the antitrust cases, like Von’s and Schwinn, but I don’t really remember my briefs or oral arguments in them.

Question:     You were general counsel on President Johnson’s Task Force on Communications Policy. How did that come about and what sort of things did you do in that capacity?

Posner:       I probably was asked by the staff director, Alan Novak, but I don’t actually remember. My title of “general counsel” had no meaning. The task force had a small staff. I learned a lot of economics from our economist staff member, Leland Johnson, a very smart economist from RAND. I did most of the writing for the report. The report was influential in the deregulation movement, and also led to my being asked to do a good deal of consulting in telecommunication policy during my time as an academic.

Question:     What is your sense of the 60s counter-culture? Read More