Category: History of Law

Posner
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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.)

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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.)

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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

Posner
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The Maverick – A Biographical Sketch of Judge Richard Posner: Part II, The Will to Greatness

This is the second installment of a biographical profile of Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here. Beginning next week, a five-part Q & A series along with an interview with the author of a forthcoming Posner biography will be posted.

Note: Some of the links used below will open only in Firefox or Chrome but not in Safari. // Revised: 11-26-14 (10:50 pm)

The Friendly Connection

“Friendly and Posner have been cited by name by the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the U.S. Districts Courts more often by far than any other circuit court judges.”  — William Domnarski (2011)

While much is known about Judge Posner’s high regard for Justice Holmes, much less attention has been devoted to his great respect for Judge Henry Friendly (1903-1983). For Posner, Friendly’s “photographic memory combined with his analytical power, energy, speed, and work ethic” produced “the most powerful legal reasoner in American legal history.” Or as Posner put it in a 1986 tribute: Judge Friendly’s “opinions have exhibited greater staying power than that of any of his contemporaries on the federal courts of appeal.” (99 Harv. L. Rev. 1724)

Between 1982 and 1986, the two jurists shared some 15,000 words in correspondence to one another (their letters have been preserved in the Harvard Law Library). Early on, in a May 12, 1982 letter to Posner, the 78-year-old Friendly praised the 43-year-old jurist: “I could not have dreamed of finding so perceptive a reader as you.” As Mr. Domnarski has aptly noted, “[s]oon Posner was comfortable enough to reveal some uncertainty in his work and ask for criticism that might help him. ‘On a more serious, even dismal, note,’ he writes, ‘I am enclosing a recent opinion I did on primary jurisdiction. I hope I got it right, but I felt a little unsure of the boundary between exhaustion and primary jurisdiction; and I would as always appreciate any comments, however critical, if you have time to read it. Pay no attention to it if I’m trespassing too much on your time.’”

A few years later, Judge Friendly was even more impressed with both the volume and quality of Posner’s judicial opinions.

Judge Friendly on Posner’s Judicial Opinions

“Every one is a masterpiece of analysis, scholarship, and style,” he declared in a September 19, 1984 letter. “About a year ago I said you were already the best judge in the country; having uttered that superlative, I am baffled on how to better it. If I could think of a way, I would use it.”

They wrote back and forth on topics ranging from railroad law to diversity jurisdiction and beyond. “Friendly and Posner were apparently so drawn to each other’s work,” says Domnarski, “that they wanted to see the other in action by having Posner come to Friendly’s Second Circuit and sit by designation. Posner had at first wanted Friendly to come to the Seventh Circuit to sit to take advantage of the rule allowing senior circuit judges such as Friendly to sit by designation in other circuits upon request and approval by the visited circuit’s chief judge.” Unfortunately, it never happened, though Posner did manage an occasional visit with Friendly whenever he came to New York and had the time.

Around Christmas of 1984, Judge Friendly inquired about Posner’s possible “elevation” to the Supreme Court. Even back then, Posner thought it doubtful. As he expressed it in a December 26, 1984 letter: “I have become an object of mysterious fascination to a segment of the press, which is doing a pretty good job of portraying me as a weirdo on the basis of some of my pre-judicial academic writing (misrepresented) and a handful of my opinions (misunderstood). Of course there is precious little I can do about any of this, but I am consoled by the thought that eventually the press will lose interest in me and move on to intrinsically livelier topics.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 9.33.44 AMAssuredly, Henry Friendly knew well what it meant to be a great judge but nonetheless passed up for a seat on the High Court. In a January 10, 1985 letter, he tried to console Posner: “These things are annoying but all this will pass. Unhappily this may not be without injury to your immediate prospects for elevation but I gather that you did not think these were very high in any event. You are wise to have acquired immunity for Supreme Court fever – a disease that has ruined many a judge.”

By 1986 it was over; Henry Friendly – old, depressed, and lonely – took his life. It was a great loss to the legal world. Worse still, his brand of judging was vanishing into the vapor of a past-tense world. Law, Posner wrote that same year, “is becoming increasingly politicized, bureaucratized, and specialized, and rising workloads are depriving more and more judges of time for reflection, discussion, and outside reading. These trends, which are unlikely to be reversed soon, bode ill for the continuation of our tradition of great judges. We may not see the likes of Henry Friendly again. The fullness of time may reveal that his passing marked the end of the classic period of American law.” (99 Harv. L. Rev. 1724,1725).

Friendly & Posner – their names sit well together. In some respects it is unsurprising that the two should have bonded as they did. They shared a common commitment to solving the riddles of the law in ways that lesser judges never do. Given their cerebral firepower and will to make the law more beholding to pragmatic reasoning, they stood almost alone in the camps of jurists.  Because of that, they also shared a common identity as the most highly regarded jurists of their time, though neither ever elevated to the Supreme Court.

As it turned out, Henry Friendly’s reputation struggled to survive the ravages of time (see, for example, Adrian Vermeule’s review of the David Dorsen’s biography of Friendly). Even so, traces of the Friendly legacy find new and invigorated meaning in the person and writings of Richard Posner, buttressed of course by the latter’s unique judicial temperament, stylistic writings skills, and economic modes of analysis.

Beyond their respective biographies (existing and forthcoming), someday someone will write a book of a collection of profiles of the great federal judges who influenced the law but never sat on the High Court (a book similar to G. Edward White’s The American Judicial Tradition). When that book is done, profiles of Henry Friendly and Richard Posner are certain to be included, if only because they helped to shape the law in ways that most Supreme Court Justices never have. And yet, when he was nominated, relatively little attention was paid to Richard Posner; it was as if all that he had already written were typed in invisible ink. He was just another nominee . . . or so it seemed to the Senate when it confirmed him.

Richard Posner’s Confirmation Hearing

Posner’s confirmation hearing took place on a Friday afternoon, in a joint session with four other nominees, and with only Chairman Strom Thurmond and the conservative Howell Heflin of Alabama in attendance. Posner’s part of the hearing took but a few minutes, and he was quickly confirmed without debate.  — Herman Schwartz, Packing the Courts (1988)

Judging Risks: Global Warming, Terrorism, & Abortion Protestors

UnknownHe crosses the street with Darwinian caution. While he may not be entirely risk averse, he is surely risk attentive . . . even though a side of him greatly admires Holmesian heroism of the kind the captain so valiantly displayed in the Civil War. In this general regard and others, one can turn to Posner’s book Catastrophe: Risk and Response (2004) to get an up close sense of his views on cost-benefit analysis.

Global Warming: Mindful of such matters, a decade ago Posner expressed serious concerns about global warming. In Catastrophe, he stressed that “a wait-and-see policy would be perilous.” Though he would surely shun an environmentalist name tag (too herd mentality like), the libertarian jurist cautioned: “Eventually, and perhaps sooner than later, the atmospheric concentrations may reach a level that triggers abrupt, catastrophic global warming – the kind that ended the Younger Dyras. No one knows what that trigger point is or when it will be reached (if ever), but it will be reached sooner if we do nothing, starting now, to reduce emissions.”

In reflecting on the respective environmental and economic factors, Posner was sensitive to the well-being of future generations:

Posner the “Environmentalist” 

Although there is a strong case for taking measures against global warming now rather than waiting decades to do so, the question remains what measures to take – how much cost to incur – and the answer depends in part on the weight to be given to the welfare of future generations, since it is most likely that the costs of global warming will be borne primarily by them.”

In that regard, he made a strong case for being “more future-regarding.” To put it another way, the law may belong to the living, but its impact will be on those yet to be born, to whom a duty is surely owed.

Terrorism: Lest Judge Posner be mistaken for a pie-in-the-sky liberal, his ideas on terrorism and civil liberties might readily prompt those of that ilk to pause before applauding him. Here again, his views on risk management are articulated in Catastrophe, and also in his Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency (2006).

Posner has little patience for civil libertarians who hold that courts should actively police the constitutional boundaries between national security and civil liberties. “The strategy of civil libertarians,” he wrote in Catastrophe, “is to oppose the slightest curtailment of civil liberties. Their strategy may serve their fund-raising and other organizational goals, but it is questionable from an overall social welfare standpoint.” (See “Geoffrey Stone Debates Judge Richard Posner on Civil Liberties,” ACSblog, October 3, 2005, and “Legality and National Security,” Judge Posner’s remarks to ABA Standing Committee, May 9, 2006)

In United States v. Daoud (2014), a case involving a convicted American terrorist who attempted a “violent jihad” by way of bombing a building, Posner put his academic views to legal use. In Daoud the court denied the defendant access to secret warrant applications that allowed FBI surveillance of him. “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” wrote Posner, “is an attempt to strike a balance between the interest in full openness of legal proceedings and the interest in national security, which requires a degree of secrecy concerning the government’s efforts to protect the nation.” And then with characteristic bluntness he added: “Terrorism is not a chimera.” (The court later elaborated on its reasoning in a heavily redacted classified opinion.)

Posner Hypotheticals

Were it known that a terrorist was driving toward Chicago with a bomb, would you think it an improper restriction of civil liberties to stop and search all cars approaching Chicago, even though there would be no probable cause to suspect any given driver of carrying a bomb? Or suppose a kidnapper has buried his victim alive and refuses to tell the police where. A policeman punches him in the face to make him talk. Would you think the policeman had acted improperly?  (Source here.)

In a nutshell, Posner’s view is this: “Most judges know little about national security; the danger of catastrophic terrorism is real; and a constitutional decision forbidding a counterterrorist measure is almost impossible to change. It is better to leave these matters to be sorted out by the executive and legislative branches of government, where the relevant expertise resides.” Whether that is entirely so is, to be sure, open to debate as Jeffrey Rosen pointed out in his 2004 review of Catastrophe.

On a related front, there is also the question of the Wikileaks and Edward Snowden and their respective revelations of government excesses taken in the name of national security. Here again, Posner is not without an answer; he has his own take on whistleblowers and classified information. In November of 2011, while speaking at the Chicago Humanities Festival, Judge Posner told the audience: “I don’t think disclosure of classified information has ever been significantly harmful to American foreign policy and national security objectives. And indeed in many cases has helped them. On the other hand, I don’t think the efforts of the government to stifle revelation of classified material is consequential.”

Abortion Protestors: Harms, however, do not have to be catastrophic for Judge Posner to believe they may trump some claim of constitutional liberty. Take, for example, his criticism of the unanimous judgment in the recent Supreme Court buffer zone abortion clinic case. “Lecturing strangers on a sidewalk is not a means by which information and opinion are disseminated in our society,” he wrote in Slate. “Strangers don’t meet on the sidewalk to discuss ‘the issues of the day.’ (Has Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the opinion, ever done such a thing?).”

Unwilling to leave it there, Posner cut to the realist quick: “The assertion that abortion protesters ‘wish to converse’ with women outside an abortion clinic is naive. They wish to prevent the women from entering the clinic, whether by showing them gruesome photos of aborted fetuses or calling down the wrath of God on them. This is harassment of people who are in a very uncomfortable position; the last thing a woman about to have an abortion needs is to be screamed at by the godly.”

Oh, how he abhors the sanctimonious! — be they conservative moralists or Ivy League ones.

Academic moralists pick from an à la carte menu the moral principles that coincide with the preferences of their social set. They have the intellectual agility to weave an inconsistent heap of policies into a superficially coherent unity and the psychological agility to honor their chosen principles only to the extent compatible with their personal happiness and professional advancement.Richard Posner, October 1997 (Harvard Law School).

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Coming Soon: Law School Tuition $11,000

coquillette While today’s Harvard Law students are about to pay the hoary institution as much as $54,580 in annual tuition, a new law school designed on the original Harvard Law model plans to charge $11,000.  I have just received an offer to join its faculty and find the model intriguing.

Designed by the renowned legal historian, Dan Coquillette, once Dean of Boston College and former colleague of mine, the new school will have no administrators but rather an automated system, no books but a digital library, and two faculty members who will teach three courses per semester to a class of thirty-five students.  There will be no ABA accreditation and the school will have to compete on the apprenticeship model.

Dan’s idea arises from his research for his magisterial history of Harvard Law School, where Dan has long been the Charles Warren Visiting Professor of American Legal History.  Called “On the Battlefield of Merit,” Harvard University Press will publish this multi-volume history, volume one telling of how apprenticeship competition nearly  destroyed the infant law school.

In Harvard Law’s golden age, there were just two faculty members, Joseph Story and Simon Greenleaf, who taught all the courses. With a faculty-student ratio of 17.5:1, Story also published a treatise a year.

As Dan explained in his appointment offer to me:

The students of the Story-Greenleaf School read like a Who’s Who of the New Republic, and they uniformly praised their Law School experience, particularly the close mentoring and inspiration they got from their two teachers.  Of course, Story and Greenleaf knew every student in the School. The physical plant was terrible; the Library, open to Harvard Square, often lost more books a year then it gained; and the only nonacdemic employee was a janitor who spoke Latin.  The students did not care, as long as there was Story at one end of a log, and a student at the other.

If we replicated that School exactly, setting faculty salaries at today’s levels and including all overhead, student tuition would be 20% of what they pay now. I am ready when you are.

I believe that this offer is non-transferable but, hey, you never know.

BC Book Club

Annual Book Author Party, BCLS Faculty (2004): Zyg Plater, Frank Garcia, Dan Coquillette, Jim Repetti, Paul McDaniel, Larry Cunningham, Bob Bloom, David Wirth, John Garvey.

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F.F. — Make of him what you will, but . . .

Felix Frankfurter

Felix Frankfurter

I want to recommend a relatively new article in the Journal of Supreme Court History. It is impressively researched, commendably thoughtful, and refreshingly balanced. Before doing so, however, permit me to say a few prefatory words.

It is hard to be fair when writing of those with whom we disagree, and harder still when we dislike their personal manner. Arrogant, argumentative, and devious – these are not the words that fair-minded scholars like to use unless the fit is fair. All of which takes us back in time to this man: Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965).

What to make of him?

As a Supreme Court Justice he was, in Mel Urofsky’s words, “a divisive figure whose jurisprudential philosophy is all but ignored today.” Others have been even less kind in their assessment of the temperament and jurisprudence of the Justice from Vienna. While Cass Sunstein has recently labored to revive respect for Justice Frankfurter and his judicial opinions, that effort may prove Sisyphean (save, perhaps, in a few discrete areas involving federal jurisdiction).

Still, there was more to Felix Frankfurter than the life he led on the Court between 1939 and 1962. The trajectory of his career (fueled by hard work, ambition, and brilliance) is an immigrant-come-to-America success story at its best. His work – first with Louis Brandeis and then on his own – to advance the cause of fair and humane labor practices exemplifies the Progressive movement in its glory. Then there was the role he played early on in helping to launch the ACLU. With a mix of courage and insight, he later called for a retrial for Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti by way of an impressive lawyer-like article he published in the Atlantic in 1927; the article was thereafter expanded into a small book. And, of course, there is more, much more, which brings me back to that article I alluded to earlier.

Sujit Raman

Sujit Raman

Sujit Raman (the chief appellate lawyer in Maryland’s U.S. Attorney’s office) has just published an engaging and highly informative article. Its title: “Felix Frankfurter and His Protégés: Re-examining the ‘Happy Hot Dogs.’” It captures Felix in all his complexity and does so with objective nuance. With skilled brevity Raman also sketches the story of the Jewish immigrant’s struggle to assimilate, the Harvard Law student’s meritocratic success, the progressive’s desire to improve government when he went to work for Henry Stimson (first in New York and then in Washington, D.C), and then the Harvard professor’s cultivation of the best and brightest, whom he invited to his Sunday teas.

Above all, Sujit Raman’s real story is about Felix Frankfurter’s “greatest legacy,” namely, the “legions of students he trained and nurtured at the Harvard Law School, . . . who, in their own right, shaped the age in which they lived.” Consistent with that objective, Frankfurter’s “avowed intent as a professor was to instill in his students an interest in public service, and from his earliest days, he began collecting recruits for his crusade.” In time, they would come to be known as Frankfurter’s “Happy Hot Dogs” as Hugh Samuel Johnson tagged them.MTE5NTU2MzE2MjE5NDc1NDY3

Could he be snobbish? Yes. Could he be petty? Yes. Spiteful? Yes. Did he delight in manipulating matters from unseen sidelines? Yes again.

Clearly, F.F. had his psychological warts. Yet, when one steps back and beholds the man and this patch of his life work at a detached distance, he stands rather tall. Why?

Now, to cut to the chase: “Frankfurter was one of the New Deal’s intellectual architects as well as one of its most accomplished draftsmen of policy – yet he had no legislative portfolio or any official position in the Roosevelt Administration.” Moreover, adds Raman, “Frankfurter was the New Deal’s principal recruiting agent. He placed his protégés in all levels of government, and consequently his vision was carried forth, albeit indirectly, by his able lieutenants.” In sum, “the New Deal was in many ways the embodiment and culmination of Frankfurter’s life work.”

James Landis

James Landis

In the span of 28 pages (buttressed by 127 scholarly endnotes), Sujit Raman fills in many of the blanks in the Professor-and-the-New-Deal story. While he is cautious not to exaggerate Frankfurter’s role and influence, Raman’s account makes it difficult to deny the remarkable magnitude of Frankfurter’s unique impact on public law and its operation at a crucial stage in our legal history.

True, the “Happy Hot Dogs” story has been told before and from a variety of perspectives (see, e.g.,  here and here). Even so, Mr. Raman does what others before him have not quite done: he tells the story in a concise yet authoritative way and with enough panache to draw the reader back in history for glimpses into the exciting world of F.F. and his adept protégés – the likes of Thomas G. Corcoran (video here), Benjamin V. CohenJames M. Landis, David Lilienthal, and Charles Wyzanski, among others. They were all part of Frankfurter’s network, all “elite lawyers” hand picked because of their ties to F.F. and their “reformist inclinations.”

Whatever your opinion of Felix Frankfurter, his star may yet brighten anew, though probably not in the universe of Supreme Court history and jurisprudence. His true galaxy was elsewhere – in that realm where the “minds of men” move the gears of government to places only once imagined in classrooms in Cambridge.

Ask your librarian for, or go online or order a copy of, Sujit Raman’s illuminating article in volume 39 (March 2014, #1, pp. 79-106)) of the Journal of Supreme Court History. Better still, join the Supreme Court Historical Society. Either way, it will serve you well.

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President Fred Vinson

93px-Fred_m_vinsonFred Vinson is one of the more obscure Chief Justices and is widely seen as a mediocre member of the Court.  He was appointed by President Truman in 1946 (the last Chief Justice from the Democratic Party) and served until he died in 1953.  As Carlton Larson pointed out in this terrific piece a few years ago, Vinson would be viewed very differently if he had written Brown, which he almost surely would have he had not died when he did.  Vinson penned the opinions in Shelley v. Kramer, Swett v. Painter, and McLaurin v. Oklahoma striking down racial segregation, and there is no reason to think that he could not have in Brown (though whether it would have been unanimous is another question).

What I didn’t know until recently is that Truman really wanted Vinson (a former Congressman and Treasury Secretary) to succeed him as President.  He tried to talk Vinson into running in 1952, and with Truman’s backing Vinson would have been a formidable candidate for the Democratic nomination.  Vinson declined, though, partly for health reasons and partly because he felt that a Chief Justice should not reenter politics.

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Fifty Years of “I know it when I see it.”

On June 22, 1964, Justice Potter Stewart coined the phrase “I know it when I see it” in his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio. Fifty years later, that expression holds the distinction of being one of the few modern legal phrases to become a regularly accepted expression among educated Americans. The half-century anniversary of Jacobellis provides a fitting opportunity to ask why “I know it when I see it” has enjoyed such popularity and what lessons that phrase and its history might hold for us today.

Jacobellis reversed the conviction of an Ohio movie theater manager for showing obscene material in the form of the French film Les Amants (The Lovers), which included a sex scene at its conclusion. The court’s 6-3 decision was highly fragmented, with six opinions in total and the plurality garnering only two votes.

Potter Stewart

In a short 144-word concurring opinion, Stewart wrote that he found it almost impossible to define obscenity precisely, which should only include “hard-core pornography.” His now famous line concluded the opinion:

 “But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

At the time, the pithy phrase actually garnered little interest in the public sphere. Many newspapers chose instead to focus on another obscenity case decided that same day, Quantity of Books v. Kansas. Those journalists who did write about Jacobellis largely ignored “I know it when I see it” and chose to focus on the legal technicalities the case posed.

While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when Stewart’s iconic expression became common, we can chart its growing popularity via Google’s Ngram search engine. Google Ngram measures the percentage of English language books that contain a phrase up to five words long. Because “I know it when I see it” is seven words, I ran the search for each five-letter segment of the phrase (“I know it when I;” “know it when I see;” “it when I see it.”). The graph clearly shows the steeply rising and still growing interest in Stewart’s phrase, starting slightly after 1964:

I know it when I see it Ngram

 

The Ngram search also reveals some interesting instances of similar phrases, both legal and not, pre-dating Jacobellis. Consider two examples: In an obituary for Benjamin Cardozo that ran in the Columbia, Yale and Harvard law journals in 1939, Learned Hand praised Justice Cardozo for his wisdom, writing:

“And what is wisdom — that gift of God which the great prophets of his race exalted? I do not know; like you, I know it when I see it, but I cannot tell of what it is composed.”

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Richard Posner & NAACP v. Button — A Short History

Since I had to prepare remarks for a panel discussion for today, I was unable to do my weekly First Amendment News column. Instead, I opted to present an abbreviated essay from a work-in-progerss, actually two. In the main, I  stitched together something from one of my books (We Must not be Afraid to be Free) and a future article (“The Maverick – A Biographical Sketch of Richard Posner”), this in addition to some reliance on Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion (2010) by Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel and other works. I also benefitted from the thoughtful assistance of Judge Posner and Robert M. O’Neil. The result is this post, also a prelude to a more scholarly work on NAACP v. Button (1963). Shortly, I will say more about Judge Posner’s involvement in Button, but before I do I thought it might useful to say a few prefatory things about the history of the case.

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The case’s original name was NAACP v. Patty, which began in 1957. After cert. was granted, the case name changed to NAACP v. Gray. Later it would be changed to Button, the last name of the Virginia Attorney General at the time. The controversy involved a challenge to five Virginia laws which, according to Fourth Circuit Court Judge Morris Aimes Soper, “were enacted [in 1956] for the express purpose of impeding the integration of the races in the public schools of the state which the plaintiff corporations are seeking to promote.” The laws in question banned the encouragement of certain kinds of litigation (“barratry” statutes) and the solicitation of clients (including in pro bono cases) and/or the financing of litigation (“champerty” statutes). The lawyer who represented the NAACP was Robert L. Carter (1917-2012), Thurgood Marshall’s chief legal assistant (and later General Counsel to the NAACP). By 1957, recalled Carter in his memoir (A Matter of Law), the group was involved in 25 cases in various states employing barratry and champerty laws aimed at halting civil rights litigation. Henry T. Wickham (1920-2008) represented the state of Virginia. In his obituary it was noted that Mr. Wickham “served as a special assistant to former Virginia Attorney General J. Lindsay Almond Jr. representing Virginia in an effort to preserve segregated public schools” in Brown v. Board.

 For an informative and thoughtful account of Button, see Harry Kalven, Jr., The Negro and the First Amendment 75-90 (1965).

The Hand of Fate

Robert Button was the Attorney General of Virginia (1962-1970) who backed policies of Massive Resistance to prevent public school desegregation.

Robert Young Button was the Attorney General of Virginia (Dem. –1962-1970) who backed policies of Massive Resistance to prevent public school desegregation (see short video clip here)

When it came time for a conference vote in the Button case, Chief Justice Earl Warren, predictably, voted to reverse. “The purpose of the statute is obviously to circumvent Brown,” he said. Justice Hugo Black agreed. “This is part of a scheme to defeat the Court’s order, and sooner or later we will have to grapple with these problems in those terms. The NAACP is finished if this law stands.” But Justice Felix Frankfurter pushed back. “I can’t imagine a worse disservice than to continue being the guardians of the Negroes. . . . There is nothing in the record to show that this statute is aimed at Negroes as such.” Justices Tom Clark and Charles Evans Whittaker agreed. “To strike this law down, we would have to discriminate in favor of Negroes,” said Clark, to which Whittaker added: “We should be color blind on this law.”

Warren added up the votes. It was a five-to-four split in favor of the state of Virginia. Justice Frankfurter eagerly began work on his majority opinion upholding Virginia’s law—the laws that made the NAACP’s brand of non-pecuniary solicitation and financing of litigation a disciplinary offense that could result in disbarment. (For a discussion of Frankfurter’s early role in the case, see Mark V. Tushnet, Making Civil Rights Law 277-278 (1994).)

At the same time, Justice Black circulated drafts of a dissent in which he claimed, among other things, that perhaps the law should be renamed “[a]n Act to make it difficult and dangerous for the [NAACP] and Virginia lawyers to assert the constitutional rights of Virginia Negroes in state and federal courts.” Then Black added a passage revealing how far removed he was from his days as a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan. “The job of lawyers under [the] Constitution is not to lead revolutions, but to lead their people in taking advantage of the American methods for correcting injustice.” And courts, Black continued, had a responsibility to serve as “sanctuaries of justice.” To ignore that role here, he concluded, was to leave the courts “a little less havens of refuge than they were before this Virginia law was sustained.”

Robert L. Carter, lawyer for the NAACP

Robert L. Carter, lawyer for the NAACP

Justice Black’s internal comments exposed just how wide the ideological chasm had grown between the members of this Court. But Robert Carter wouldn’t get a chance to read them. Nor, for that matter, would anyone else. On April 1, 1962, before the Court could announce its decision in NAACP v. Button, Justice Whittaker retired on the advice of his physician. He was sixty-one. The “great volume and continuous stresses of the court’s work,” he explained in a written statement, had brought him to the “point of physical exhaustion.” That left a four-to-four split among the remaining jurists, who scheduled a rehearing of the case the following term. Then, a few days later, seventy-nine-year-old Felix Frankfurter collapsed at his desk from a stroke. He lived, but shortly afterwards he announced his retirement. Just like that, President Kennedy could appoint two new Justices—and Robert Carter could feel new hope.

 An audio of the arguments in NAACP v. Gray can be found here.

New Faces, New Result

By the fall of 1962, President Kennedy had successfully appointed to the bench his top two choices—Byron White and Arthur Goldberg. And it promised to be a busy fall at the Supreme Court after they were both confirmed. Sometime around then, as Stern and Wermiel recount it, Justice Brennan busily circulated a 63-page memo that detailed the activities of the NAACP and its Virginia branch.

After hearing rearguments in Button, the Justices met privately to discuss the case on October 12, 1962. Chief Justice Warren had not changed his mind since first discussing the facts a year earlier. “The NAACP has a right to be in business,” he began. “If this suit goes against the NAACP, it is out of business.” Justices Black, Douglas, and Clark also maintained their original opinions. So did the typically restrained Justice John Marshall Harlan, who continued to claim that Virginia’s new law was “plainly constitutional. . . . Brown v. Board of Education will never work out if it is left in the federal domain. The states must do it. We have no reason to reverse Virginia on this law.” Justice Potter Stewart, the Eisenhower appointee from Cincinnati with the unpredictable voting record, was the first of the veteran Justices to suggest a possible change of heart. “I am not sure,” he said, “but I am inclined to reverse.” Justice White, the first of the two new members to speak at the private conference, was even less certain than Stewart. “I do not know where I stand.” Goldberg was more certain. “There is a substantial equal protection point here and I could reverse on that,” he said. Read More