Category: Jurisprudence

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Posner Mania — Two New Books Coming this January: One by Posner, the other on Posner

Can one ever have his or her fill of Richard Posner? Perhaps, perhaps not. However that may be, the maverick jurist will be in the limelight once again by way of two forthcoming books — yet another book by him, and biography about him (the first of its kind).

On New Years day of next year, Oxford University Press will release Richard Posner by William Domnarski. The book is slated to be 336 pages long and will sell for $29.95 in hardcover. Here is the publisher’s blurb on the book:

Unknown“Judge Richard Posner is one of the great legal minds of our age, on par with such generation-defining judges as Holmes, Hand, and Friendly. A judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the principal exponent of the enormously influential law and economics movement, he writes provocative books as a public intellectual, receives frequent media attention, and has been at the center of some very high-profile legal spats. He is also a member of an increasingly rare breed-judges who write their own opinions rather than delegating the work to clerks-and therefore we have unusually direct access to the workings of his mind and judicial philosophy.”

“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 list includes among others members of the Harvard Law Review, colleagues at the University of Chicago, former law clerks over Posner’s more than thirty years on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and even other judges from that court.”

“Richard Posner is a comprehensive and accessible account of a unique judge who, despite never having sat on the Supreme Court, has nevertheless dominated the way law is understood in contemporary America.”

 → See The Promethean Posner – An Interview with the Judge’s Biographer, Concurring Opinions (Dec. 29, 2014)

℘ ℘ ℘

Three days after the release of the Oxford biography, Harvard University Press will release Divergent Paths: The Academy and the Judiciary by Judge Posner.  The 350-page book (he has done some 40 or so of them) will also sell for $29.95 in hardcover. Here is the publisher’s blurb on the book:

Unknown“Judges and legal scholars talk past one another, if they have any conversation at all. Academics couch their criticisms of judicial decisions in theoretical terms, which leads many judges—at the risk of intellectual stagnation—to dismiss most academic discourse as opaque and divorced from reality. In Divergent Paths, Richard Posner turns his attention to this widening gap within the legal profession, reflecting on its causes and consequences and asking what can be done to close or at least narrow it.”

“The shortcomings of academic legal analysis are real, but they cannot disguise the fact that the modern judiciary has several serious deficiencies that academic research and teaching could help to solve or alleviate. In U.S. federal courts, which is the focus of Posner’s analysis of the judicial path, judges confront ever more difficult cases, many involving complex and arcane scientific and technological distinctions, yet continue to be wedded to legal traditions sometimes centuries old. Posner asks how legal education can be made less theory-driven and more compatible with the present and future demands of judging and lawyering.”

“Law schools, he points out, have great potential to promote much-needed improvements in the judiciary, but doing so will require significant changes in curriculum, hiring policy, and methods of educating future judges. If law schools start to focus more on practical problems facing the American legal system rather than debating its theoretical failures, the gulf separating the academy and the judiciary will narrow.”

℘ ℘ ℘

  For more on Posner, see The Complete Posner on Posner SeriesConcurring Opinions (12 postings, Nov. 24, 2014 – Jan. 5, 2015)

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FAN 51 (First Amendment News) Journalists, Scholars & Others Pay Tribute to Anthony Lewis

Anthony Lewis . . . created a new approach to legal journalism. He combined sophisticated legal analysis with an unparalleled ability to write in plain, lucid English, translating the Court’s decisions, explaining their implications, and assessing their significance for a broad readership. David Cole (May 9, 2013)

Tony Lewis (credit: NYT)

Tony Lewis (credit: NYT)

Anthony Lewis (1927-2013) — reporter, columnist, educator, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and scholar. He was all of those things and more. I grew up on Tony Lewis (he was born Joseph Anthony Lewis). He was right there, in the New York Times, which in those days you couldn’t get on the Internet – there was none. If you were outside New York you were lucky to find a hard copy at a good hotel or news- stand.  A Lewis column was a staple of one’s diet for those who followed the Court and related matters. And what a corpus of work he set his name to — some 5,600 some articles and columns and five books. That is reason enough to single out the Lewis byline.

→ See Adam Liptak, “Anthony Lewis, Supreme Court Reporter Who Brought Law to Life, Dies at 85,” NYT, March 25, 2013

Happily, the Missouri Law Review recently paid tribute to Tony Lewis in a symposium issue with 13 contributors, several of whom once worked with him and were also close friends of his. (Note: The links below may not open in Safari but should open in Firefox and Chrome.)

  1. Foreword: The Art, Craft, and Future of Legal Journalism: A Tribute to Anthony Lewis, by Richard Ruben
  2. Keynote: Anthony Lewis and the First Amendment, by Adam Liptak

Articles

  1. Anthony Lewis: What He Learned at Harvard Law School, by Lincoln Caplan
  2. Anthony Lewis: Pioneer in the Court’s Pressroom, by Lyle Denniston
  3. The Rigorous Romantic: Anthony Lewis on the Supreme Court Beat, by Linda Greenhouse
  4. Press Freedom and Coverage in the U.S. and Kosovo: A Series of Comparisons and Recommendations, by Ben Holden
  5. A Tiger with No Teeth: The Case for Fee Shifting in State Public Records Law, by Heath Hooper & Charles N. Davis
  6. Anthony Lewis, by Dahlia Lithwick
  7. Legal Journalism Today: Change or Die, by Howard Mintz
  8. Institutionalizing Press Relations at the Supreme Court: The Origins of the Public Information Office, by Jonathan Peters
  9. Setting the Docket: News Media Coverage of Our Courts – Past, Present and an Uncertain Future, by Gene Policinski
  10. As Today’s Tony Lewises Disappear, Courts Fill Void, by David A. Sellers
  11. Making Judge-Speak Clear Amidst the Babel of Lawspeakers, by Michael A. Wolff

Tony Lewis’ Fantasy

You lead me to tell you my fantasy. A happy fantasy. [It is this:] our next President does the equivalent of what Jefferson did in his first inaugural when he was so hated by the Federalists and began his inaugural speech by saying, “We are all Republicans – we are all Federalists.” The next president sets out to say two things. One, there’s nobody unpatriotic here. We’re all Americans together. And two, this administration is going to be an administration of law; where law has been rolled back, we’re going to bring it to the fore again. This country is a government of laws, not men. That’s my fantasy. Will it happen? I doubt it. But I sure think it ought to. (Sept. 12, 2006 Interview, Walter Lippmann House, Cambridge, Mass.)

Go here for a C-SPAN interview I did with Tony in connection with his book Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment (2001).

Media Groups Challenge Claim for Profits in the Defamation Case

Jesse Ventura

Jesse Ventura

The case is Ventura v. Kyle, which is presently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The matter involves a defamation lawsuit brought in federal court by Jesse Ventura (former governor of Minnesota and Navy veteran) against HarperCollins concerning its publication of the book American Sniper by Chris Kyle. Last summer, a jury awarded Ventura $1.8 million from the Kyle estate. The case is now on appeal.

Yesterday Floyd Abrams joined by Susan Buckley and Merriam Mikhail filed an amicus brief on behalf of 33 media companies and organizations contesting the award. In it, the trio of lawyers advanced two main arguments:

  1. The Common Law Does Not Recognize and the Constitution Does Not Permit an Award of a Book’s Profits as a Remedy for Defamation, and
  2. The Award of Profits from American Sniper is Tantamount to an Award of Punitive Damages, Damages that Are Not Permitted Against the Estate

“[T]he law of libel,” they maintain, has “been clear that while damages could be awarded to victims of libel, the awards would be limited to the recovery of money for the injuries said to have been sustained by plaintiffs and not for amounts claimed to have been received by defendants. That proposition has rarely been questioned until this case. Indeed, we know of only one case, decided more than 65 years ago, that is directly on point: Hart v. E.P. Dutton & Co., 93 N.Y.S.2d 871 (Sup. Ct. 1949), aff’d, 98 N.Y.S.2d 773 (App. Div. 1950), appeal denied, 99 N.Y.S.2d 1014 (App. Div. 1950). Rooted in constitutional concerns and the common law relating to libel, the Hart decision holds that a claim for profits may not be asserted in the defamation context. We are aware of no case before or after Hart to the contrary.”

The briefs concludes: “Where, as here, there was no showing of evil intent sufficient to satisfy [Minnesota’s punitive damages law], where, as here, an award of profits can serve no deterrent or punitive purpose, and where, as here, the First Amendment’s abhorrence of exorbitant damage awards untethered to a plaintiff’s true injury is clearly in play, this Court should not be the first to sanction an unprecedented award of a book’s profits.”

 As noted in their amicus brief, the issue of an award of profits in defamation cases is addressed in Dan Dobbs, Law of Remedies: Damages – Equity – Restitution (2d ed.) (“One reason to deny the restitution claim is the threat it presents to free speech. Another is the difficulty of apportioning the publisher’s profit between his own effort and investment and the defamatory material.”)

Geoffrey Stone Weighs in on Oklahoma Expulsion Controversy  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)

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The Complete Posner on Posner Series

The Posner on Posner series began on November 24, 2014 and ended with the Afterword on January 5, 2015. Below is a hyperlinked list of all the posts.

 Table of Contents

  1. The Maverick – A Biographical Sketch of Judge Richard Posner: Part I
  1. The Maverick – A Biographical Sketch of Judge Richard Posner: Part II, The Will to Greatness
  1. The Man Behind the Robes — A Q & A with Richard Posner
  1. The Judge & Company – Questions for Judge Posner from Judges, Law Professors & a Journalist
  1. On Legal Education & Legal Scholarship — More questions for Judge Posner
  1. On Free Expression & the First Amendment — More questions for Judge Posner
  1. On Privacy, Free Speech, & Related Matters – Richard Posner vs David Cole & Others
  1. On Judicial Reputation: More questions for Judge Posner
  1. Posner on Same-Sex Marriage – Then & Now
  1. Posner on Case Workloads & Making Judges Work Harder
  1. The Promethean Posner – An Interview with the Judge’s Biographer
  1. Afterword: Posner at 75 – “It’s My Job”

→ Forthcoming: Richard Posner (Oxford University Press, Spring, 2015) by William Domnarski.

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?

Masked Man Read More

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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.)

THE “BRASH YOUNG MAN” Read More

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Posner on Case Workloads & Making Judges Work Harder

What’s the evidence in this case that the [administrative] judges can’t work harder and handle 500 cases?Richard Posner (2014)

I shall not inquire why Congress as it were “permits” judges not to work too hard, by increasing the number of judges and their staffs in order to meet increases in workload. . . .

Any effort by one judge to hear more than his proportional share of cases or snag more than his proportional share of writing assignments is not only rebuffed but resented. For one thing, it might result in Congress’s deciding that a smaller number of judges could handle the federal judicial workload.Richard Posner, “What do Judges Maximize?

This is the tenth 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, the eighth here, and the ninth one here.

Almost two decades ago, in a book titled The Federal Courts: Challenge and Reform (1985). Both his analysis of the problems facing federal courts and his calls for reform drew criticism from some members of the federal bench. See e.g. Judge Roger J. Miner’s 1997 review essay. Judge Posner was also a member of The Federal Courts Study Committee (1990).

Three years ago Judge Posner offered the following comment on the workload of the Supreme Court Justices:

“If you look hard enough [on the Court’s official website], you will find a paragraph implying misleadingly that the Court has a very heavy workload; in fact, in the last half-century its output has fallen, while its staff (consisting mainly of law clerks) has increased substantially, both in quantity and—because, since the late 1960s, a prior clerkship has become de rigueur for Supreme Court law clerks—in experience.”

Against that general backdrop, I thought it might be informative to consider a recent case that came before Judge Posner on the topic of case workloads. Earlier this month, on December 9th, a panel of the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments in Association of Administrative Law Judges v. Colvin.

The Plaintiffs were members of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (all administrative law judges). They filed a complaint contesting a Benchmarks and Directive issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA) imposing an agency-wide requirement that SSA administrative law judges (ALJ) decide 500-700 cases per year. The ALJs alleged that SSA had imposed an illegal quota on them and thus violated their right to decisional independence under the Administrative Procedures Act. The District Court granted the Defendant’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

Below are some excerpts from an exchange during oral arguments in the Colvin case. The other two judges on the panel were Michael Kanne and Kenneth Ripple. Given the focus of this series, however, I quoted only Judge Posner’s questions and comments. The comments I have transcribed, though directed at administrative law judges, provide the reader with a general idea of the nature of some of Judge Posner’s concerns.   

One final comment: If Judge Posner expects a lot of work from his fellow judges, both administrative law and Article III jurists, it may have something to do with his own (pardon the expression) Calvinist-like work ethic.

______________

Marilyn Zahm: . . . This case is about judicial integrity and the integrity of the entire administrative judicial system. It is a case about a quota that directs judges to issue favorable decisions or cut corners, denying claimants due process and fair adjudication of their cases. It is not a case about working conditions. . . . Administrative law judges have to have judicial independence . . . .

Judge Posner: I don’t see how this affects judicial independence.

Ms. Zahm: The quota directs that the judge issue favorable decisions or cut corners.

Judge Posner: No, no, that’s not a proper definition. The quota says you’re supposed to do what? — 500 to 700 cases a year?

Ms. Zahm: The quota says we have a minimum of 500 cases.

Judge Posner: Five hundred cases a year. Now how does having to do 500 instead of 400, or whatever people do, how does that interfere with your adjudicative independence?

Ms. Zahm: Because paying cases is faster, and it’s easier because those cases are not appealed. The government is not represented in our courtroom, and very little scrutiny is given to cases that are paid. There are no studies showing that a judge can properly adjudicate a minimum of 500 cases a year and still comply with the requirements of the APA, and all of the rules, regulations, and law of the Social Security Act. In fact, the agency asserts that it should take us two-and-a-half-hours to adjudicate a case. That includes: opening the file, reading all of the voluminous records – most of which are medical records – holding a full and fair hearing, developing the record, ensuring that all of the evidence . . .

[The Need to Work Harder]

Judge Posner: Well, you’re saying that to do a good job, they’ll have to work harder.

Ms. Zahm: I don’t think it’s a question of working harder.

Judge Posner: Why not? If they work harder, they can do what their doing now. Right?

Ms. Zahm: No, because it takes a certain amount of time to do the work. . . .

6a00d8341bf74053ef00e54f6ef40d8833-800wiJudge Posner: But judicial workloads, for example, vary across districts, and circuits and so on. Some courts have heavier workloads, so the judges have to work harder. Is that an interference with judicial independence?

Ms. Zahm: If by working harder we could accomplish the 500 case minimum, we would not be here. It’s not a question of working harder. The work takes a certain amount of time . . .

Judge Posner: Why do you think they [the SSA has] done this?

Ms. Zahm: It’s political expediency.

Judge Posner: How do you mean?

Ms. Zahm: That, they have a certain amount of cases that have to be moved through the system, and therefore the judges are just going to move them through the system.

Judge Posner: Well, that sounds like a pretty good reason. Right?

Ms. Zahm: Not if it perverts the administrative . . . .

Judge Posner: But it only perverts it if the judges refuse to work harder.

Ms. Zahm: Again, Judge Posner, I don’t mean to disagree, but it’s not a question of working harder. If I worked harder . . .

Judge Posner: How do you know? How do we know? What’s the evidence of that?

Ms. Zahm: Well, you see the cases that we handle coming through your courtroom.

Judge Posner: What’s the evidence in this case that the judges can’t work harder and handle 500 cases?

Ms. Zahm: We are prepared to show at trial that this is not a case of requiring judges to work harder but perverting . . . .

Judge Posner: Well, how many cases did they handle before this rule?

Ms. Zahm: I think that varied . . .

Judge Posner: No, answer my question.

Ms. Zahm: . . . The average judge would probably handle between 300 and 500 cases prior to this.

Judge Posner: That sounds like an average of 400. So, what’s the evidence that if you increased their caseload by 25%, they can’t handle that increase?

[Rubber-stamping cases?]

Ms. Zahm: Well, I could handle 1oo cases a day if all I did is rubber-stamped them. It’s not a question of handling the cases. It’s a question of performing your statutory obligations of giving the claimant due process, of reading the entire record, of developing the case. And if you don’t do that the outcome is affected. Either you will pay the case . . . or you give the claimant short shrift. That’s not a judicial system that has any integrity.

Judge Posner: No, my question is more specific: Suppose the average administrative law judge handles 400 cases a year. How difficult is it for him to handle 500?

Ms. Zahm: I can speak from my own experience, because when I was a fulltime judge I did close to 400 cases a year. I was pushing it to do that many.

Posner’s Productivity – 90 opinions annually

[T]he Supreme Court justices write very, very few majority opinions. Last year they saw 74 cases. Divide that by nine and that’s a little more than eight opinions a year. That’s ridiculous! I write around 90 opinions a year. [Source here]

Judge Posner: So why doesn’t the agency hire more administrative law judges?

Ms. Zahm: Because Congress in the past has given the agency less money than it needs to accomplish its mission. The agency is in the process of hiring more judges. The problem is that there are more cases than ever. . . .

[Question from Judge Ripple re whether there was a “working condition” subject to the CSRA and response by Ms. Zahm]

[The 10-hour day hypothetical] Read More

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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)

Safe Harbor Read More

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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

Posner
8

On Privacy, Free Speech, & Related Matters – Richard Posner vs David Cole & Others

I’m exaggerating a little, but I think privacy is primarily wanted by people because they want to conceal information to fool others. Richard Posner

Privacy is overratedRichard Posner (2013)

 Much of what passes for the name of privacy is really just trying to conceal the disreputable parts of your conduct. Privacy is mainly about trying to improve your social and business opportunities by concealing the sorts of bad activities that would cause other people not to want to deal with you.Richard Posner (2014)

This is the seventh 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, and the sixth one here.

Privacy has been on Richard Posner’s mind for more than three-and-a-half decades. His views, as evidenced by the epigraph quotes above, have sparked debate in a variety of quarters, both academic and policy. In some ways those views seem oddly consistent with his persona – on the one hand, he is a very public man as revealed by his many writings, while on the other hand, he is a very private man about whom we know little of his life outside of the law save for a New Yorker piece on him thirteen years ago.

On the scholarly side of the privacy divide, his writings include:

  1. The Right of Privacy,” 12 Georgia Law Review 393 (1978)
  2. Privacy, Secrecy, and Reputation,” 28 Buffalo Law Review 1 (1979)
  3. The Uncertain Protection of Privacy by the Supreme Court,” 1979 Supreme Court Review 173
  4. The Economics of Privacy,” 71 The American Economic Review 405 (1981)
  5. Privacy,” Big Think (video clip, nd)
  6. Privacy is Overrated,” New York Daily News, April 28, 2014

For a sampling of Judge Posner’s opinion on privacy, go here (and search Privacy)

(Note: Some links will only open in Firefox or Chrome.)

_____________________

Privacy – “What’s the big deal?”

Privacy interests should really have very little weight when you’re talking about national security. The world is in an extremely turbulent state – very dangerous. — Richard Posner (2014)

Recently, Georgetown Law Center held a conference entitled “Cybercrime 2020: The Future of Online Crime and Investigations” (full C-SPAN video here). In the course of that event, Judge Posner joined with others in government, private industry, and in the legal academy to discuss privacy, the Fourth Amendment, and free speech, among other things. A portion of the exchange between Judge Posner and Georgetown law professor David Cole was captured on video.

Judge Richard Posner

Judge Richard Posner

Scene: The Judge sitting in his office, speaking into a video conference camera — As he rubbed his fingers across the page and looked down, Posner began: “I was thinking, listening to Professor Cole, what exactly is the information that he’s worried about?” Posner paused, as if to setup his next point: “I have a cell phone – iPhone 6 – so if someone drained my cell phone, they would find a picture of my cat [laughter], some phone numbers, some e-mail addresses, some e-mail texts – so what’s the big deal?”

He then glanced up from the text he appeared to be reading and spoke with a grin: “Other people must have really exciting stuff. [laughter] Could they narrate their adulteries or something like that?” [laughter] He then waved his hands in the air before posing a question to the Georgetown Professor.

“What is it that you’re worrying about?” Posner asked as if truly puzzled.

At that point, Cole leaned into his microphone and looked up at the video screen bearing the Judge’s image next to case reports on his left and the American flag on his right.

Cole: “That’s a great question, Judge Posner.”

Professor Cole continued, adding his own humor to the mix: “And I, like you, have only pictures of cats on my phone. [laughter] And I’m not worried about anything from myself, but I’m worried for others.”

On a more substantive note, Cole added: “Your question, which goes back to your original statement, . . . value[s] . . . privacy unless you have something to hide. That is a very, very shortsighted way of thinking about the value [of privacy]. I agree with Michael Dreeben: Privacy is critical to a democracy; it is critical to political freedom; [and] it is critical to intimacy.”

The sex video hypothetical

And then with a sparkle in his spectacled eye, Cole stated: “Your question brings to mind a cartoon that was in the New Yorker, just in the last couple of issues, where a couple is sitting in bed and they have video surveillance cameras over each one of them trained down on the bed [Cole holds his hands above his head to illustrate the peering cameras]. And the wife says to the husband: ‘What are you worried about if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.’”

Using the cartoon as his conceptual springboard, Cole moved on to his main point: “It seems to me that all of us, whether we are engaged in entirely cat-loving behavior, or whether we are going to psychiatrists, or abortion providers, or rape crises centers, or Alcoholics Anonymous, or have an affair – all of us have something to hide. Even if you don’t have anything to hide, if you live a life that could be entirely transparent to the rest of the world, I still think the value of that life would be significantly diminished if it had to be transparent.”

Without missing a beat, Cole circled back to his video theme: “Again you could say, ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide, and you’re not engaged in criminal activity, let’s put video cameras in every person’s bedroom. And let’s just record the video, 24/7, in their bedroom. And we won’t look at it until we have reason to look at it. You shouldn’t be concerned because . . .’”

At this point, Posner interrupted: “Look, that’s a silly argument.”

Cole: “But it’s based on a New Yorker cartoon.”

The Judge was a tad miffed; he waved his right hand up and down in a dismissive way: “The sex video, that’s silly!Waving his index finger to emphasize his point, he added: “What you should be saying, [what] you should be worried about [are] the types of revelation[s] of private conduct [that] discourage people from doing constructive things. You mentioned Alcoholics Anonymous . . .”

Cole: “I find sex to be a constructive thing.”

Obviously frustrated, Posner raised his palms up high in protest: “Let me finish, will you please?”

Cole: “Sure.”

Posner: “Look, that was a good example, right? Because you can have a person who has an alcohol problem, and so he goes to Alcoholics Anonymous, but he doesn’t want this to be known. If he can’t protect that secret,” Posner continued while pointing, “then he’s not going to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. That’s gonna be bad. That’s the sort of thing you should be concerned about rather than with sex videos. . . . [The Alcoholics Anonymous example] is a good example of the kind of privacy that should be protected.”

David Cole

Professor David Cole

Privacy & Politics 

Meanwhile, the audience listened and watched on with its attention now fixed on the Georgetown professor.

Cole: “Well, let me give you an example of sex privacy. I think we all have an interest in keeping our sex lives private. That’s why we close doors into our bedroom, etc. I think that’s a legitimate interest, and it’s a legitimate concern. And it’s not because you have something wrong you want to hide, but because intimacy requires privacy, number one. And number two: think about the government’s use of sex information with respect to Dr. Martin Luther King. They investigated him, intruded on his privacy by bugging his hotel rooms to learn [about his] affair, and then sought to use that – and the threat of disclosing that affair – to change his behavior. Why? Because he was an active, political, dissident fighting for justice.”

“We have a history of that,” he added. “Our country has a history of that; most countries have a history of that; and that’s another reason the government will use information – that doesn’t necessarily concern [it] – to target people who [it is] concerned about . . . – not just because of their alcohol problem [or] not just because of their sexual proclivities – but because they have political views and political ideas that the government doesn’t approve of.”

At this point the moderator invited the Judge to respond.

Posner: “What happened to cell phones? Do you have sex photos on your cell phones?”

Cole: “I imagine if Dr. Martin Luther King was having an affair in 2014, as opposed to the 1960s, his cell phone, his smart phone, would have quite a bit of evidence that would lead the government to that affair. He’d have call logs; he might have texts; he might have e-mails – all of that would be on the phone.”

The discussion then moved onto the other panelists.

Afterwards, and writing on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, Professor Orin Kerr, who was one of the participants in the conference, summed up his views of the exchange this way:

“I score this Cole 1, Posner 0.”

The First Amendment — Enter Glenn Greenwald Read More