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Prosecutors vs. Divorce Court Judges

What do prosecutors and divorce court judges have in common?

Although this sounds like the start to a lawyer joke, I think examining the two groups together can yield interesting insights. One commonality is their wide and essentially unreviewable discretion.   Prosecutors can decline to charge altogether or can choose which charges to bring.   Divorce court judges often decide based on broad notions of fairness how to split a couple’s entire life savings, and also have power to prohibit parents from having overnight guests when they have physical custody of their children.

The literature on prosecutors is full of potential solutions to the perceived problems of unchecked discretion. One solution is to provide more judicial review. This has been a popular proposal in family law as well, where commentators seek more appellate review of trial court discretion. In my previous post, I explored ways of incorporating community input into family law decisions. This could be framed as roughly analogous to calls for various forms community policing or notice and comment sentencing.

Other reforms call on prosecutors to voluntarily develop guidelines. I want to explore what that might look like if translated to the family law context. Could judges band together and create local guidelines? The answer appears to be no. Below the fold I argue that, contrary to what most appellate courts have held, there are reasons to think that individual judges should be allowed to publically announce their personal rules of thumb and groups of judges should be allowed to publically create group rules of thumb.

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Posner
3

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.  

5

The Garner Case

I’m not a criminal law expert, of course, but I thought I would start what amounts to an open thread on the Garner case.  Here is my question:  Can the decision by the grand jury not to indict be defended?  If so, how?

I’ll add one qualification.  A perfectly fine answer to my question is that the grand jury had before it exculpatory evidence that we don’t know anything about.  Since there is no way to disprove that assertion (given that these grand jury proceedings are still secret), let’s assume for the sake of argument that what is in the public record is all of the relevant evidence.  Discuss.

3

The Spirit of the Constitution

Recently I’ve been asking myself this question:  What do people mean when they refer to “the spirit of the Constitution?”  It’s a phrase that was used by John Marshall in M’Culloch v. Maryland and which shows up in a lot of Supreme Court opinions.  Originally it was probably a play on Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, which was influential in the eighteenth century.  But what does the phrase mean now?

My initial thought is that this is either purely rhetorical (“This violates the letter and the spirit of the Constitution”), a statement that something is unconstitutional even though there is no text or precedent that says so, or a statement that something is legal but should not be done.  Take President Obama’s Executive Order on immigration.  If I say that the order violates the spirit of the Constitution, am I saying that it is constitutional or is not?  I need to look more carefully at how this phrase is typically used to develop a solid answer.

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Two Cheers for the Senate

It is easy to take shots at the Senate.  It violates the one-person, one-vote standard as between the populations of the states.  You often need sixty votes to get anything done.  The rules are arcane.  And so on.  But I want to put in a good word for the Senate.

The principal advantage of the Senate is that the two parties are on a much more equal footing there than they are in the House of Representatives.  Consider that from 1954 to 1994 Democrats controlled the House.  Since 1994, the Republicans have controlled the House for all but four years.  Before 1954, Democrats controlled the House for all but four years from 1932 to 1954.  In other words, the House of Representatives rarely changes hands.  Why is that?  One explanation is that incumbency matters more in low-profile House races.  Another explanation is gerrymandering.

By contrast, the Senate changes hands more frequently (at least since 1980).  The GOP held it from 1980-1986.  Then the Democrats held it from 1986-1994.  Then the the GOP was back from 1994-2001, then Democrats held control in 2001-2002, then the GOP from 2002-2006, then the Dems from 2006-2014, and now the GOP again.  Why is that?  You cannot gerrymander Senate races, for one thing.  Secondly, the states up for reelection in any given year usually favor one party over the other, but rarely the same party.  And third, incumbency probably matters less for Senators.  (Ask Mary Landrieu if her three terms of bringing home the pork helped when her party’s President is unpopular in her state.).  The Senate was obviously not designed to make party competition more lively, but that is the result.  And I submit that this is a healthy thing.

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

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

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

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

Richard Posner (1995)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 __________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posner: Much more emphasis on fund raising.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7

Police Killing Unarmed Minority Men on Video with Impunity is not New

The grand jury’s decision to not indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner despite video of the incident, in the wake of the failure to indict Darren Wilson, further illustrates the apparent immunity of police officers in cases where officers have killed ethnic minority Americans. The Garner case is a reminder that the interpretation of (crime) videos is filtered through pre-existing cultural lenses, but it also speaks to a more fundamental problem. The case provides more evidence that video has not been a panacea in addressing lethal violence by police officers, a fact which is relevant in discussing the likely efficacy of cop cams. I have posted other similar disturbing videos of lethal force being used against unarmed ethnic minority men (after the jump) wherein there has been no accountability in the criminal justice system for the officers involved.

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The Judge & Company – Questions for Judge Posner from Judges, Law Professors & a Journalist

That’s a sensitive question to put to a judge.

                      – Richard Posner (see below)

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

Has any sitting appellate jurist ever entertained a wide swath of questions from a journalist, fellow judges, and law professors? The answer: Never, to the best of my knowledge. But if one had to pick such a jurist, Richard Posner would surely be (and is) that person. True to his realist image, he answered all of the questions posed to him and did so promptly and, for the most part, without reservation. 

In order to get a range of views from different perspectives, I invited a number of noted legal figures to pose questions to Judge Richard Posner. Twenty-four responded; they are:

  • Thomas Ambro
  • William Baude
  • Ryan Calo
  • Erwin Chemerinsky
  • Lawrence Cunningham
  • Michael Dorf
  • Barry Friedman
  • David Hoffman
  • Yale Kamisar
  • Judith Kaye
  • Hans Linde
  • Adam Liptak
  • Andrea Mays
  • Linda Mullenix
  • Robert O’Neil
  • Frederick Schauer
  • David Skover
  • Daniel Solove
  • Geoffrey Stone
  • Kellye Testy
  • David Vladeck
  • Eugene Volokh
  • Kathryn Watts
  • Adam Winkler

Their questions, organized into 26 topics, are set out below followed by Judge Posner’s replies. Hyperlinks have been added where useful. Note: Some links will open in Firefox or Chrome but not in Safari. –RKLC

_____________________________

I.     Clerking for Justice Brennan

Professor Robert M. O’Neil: Perhaps your most remarkable contribution as a Supreme Court clerk for Justice William Brennan was the total change in the status of Gray v. Sanders (1963).  You initially drafted an opinion for the Justice that would have resulted in a decisive reversal of the Ninth Circuit ruling. But you quickly learned that the Court had preliminarily voted 7-2 to affirm. On the basis of your persuasive draft opinion, however, Justice Brennan promptly asked the Chief Justice to reassign the case. That soon resulted in a 7-2 reversal with only Justices Clark and Harlan dissenting.  Two intriguing questions arise:

  1. Given the oral argument and the statutory context, why were you so sanguine about the prospects for reversal?
  2. And how did you eventually persuade Justice Brennan and four of his colleagues to reach a wholly different result?

[RC: Professor O’Neil clerked with Justice Brennan when Posner did.]

Judge Posner:

  1. I wasn’t. I was under the mistaken impression that the Court had voted to reverse.
  2. I didn’t use any persuasion. When Justice Brennan read my opinion, he said it was persuasive and he’d tried to persuade the Court to change its vote from affirm to reverse. His persuasive efforts must have been effective, though I don’t recall his having said anything to me about them.

Professor Robert M. O’Neil:

  1. Among the Supreme Court opinions to which you made substantial and invaluable contributions, how would you appraise the Philadelphia National Bank (1963) case?
  2. To what extent did Justice Brennan or other members of the Court (or fellow clerks, or for that matter teachers like Harvard Professor Donald Turner) shape your views on those issues?

Judge Posner:

  1. Of the opinions I worked on, that was my favorite. I think it was influential on antitrust law and also convinced me to specialize in antitrust, which I did for the early part of my career, following the clerkship.
  2. The principal influence was Derek Bok, then a professor at Harvard Law School and later, of course, dean of the law school and later still president of Harvard University. He had written an important article on merger antitrust law, part of which I had cite-checked when I was on the Harvard Law Review. The article stuck in my mind and played a crucial role in my thinking about the Philadelphia Bank 
Justice William Brennan

Justice William Brennan

II.     Judging Justice Brennan

Professor Geoffrey Stone: You served as a law clerk to Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., a half-a-century ago. With the benefit of hindsight, how would you assess his contributions as a Justice?

Judge Posner: Obviously, he was very influential, in part because of his warm personality and willingness to compromise. I think Warren relied heavily on him. A number of the Warren Court’s most important decisions were his.

III.     Jurisprudence

Professor Frederick Schauer: When you were a law student, Lon Fuller was a major figure at the Harvard Law School, and only a few years earlier his published debate with H.L.A. Hart was a major event at the school and in legal scholarship generally.

Could you comment on your views about the contemporary state of Anglo-American jurisprudence, whether that state is different from what it was fifty years ago, and, if different, what might account for the change?

Judge Posner: I never met or had a class from Fuller, and never cottoned to his views, and I don’t remember whether I ever read that debate. I never took a course on jurisprudence and I don’t think I had any interest in it. As an academic I became interested in it and wrote about it.

I like your work in jurisprudence, and that of Neil Duxbury and a few others, but much of the jurisprudence literature I find rather sterile. I found Ronald Dworkin’s approach unconvincing; likewise with H.L.A. Hart’s. I love the legal realists, above all Holmes, but also John Dewey, Jeremy Bentham, of course, Hans Kelsen, and Richard Rorty (not an exhaustive list), though law was far from a major interest of Dewey and Rorty.

 IV.     Law in a Globalized World

Judge Judith Kaye (ret):

  1. What is the impact of our radically globalized world on the business of the U.S. courts? How is our jurisprudence, our decision-making process, in any way influenced by the cultural diversity of the international issues we increasingly face?
  2. In that connection, what is the impact of the increased use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in international matters, inevitably still requiring resort to our courts?

Judge Posner:

  1. We get more cases involving foreign and international law, but I think the influence of foreign legal practices on our jurisprudence and decision-making processes is slight. We continue to resist inroads into the adversary system. I think that resistance is a big mistake, but I also think it’s a mistake to look to foreign judicial decisions for guidance to how we should deal with issues such as capital punishment, abortion, and international human rights. I think one has to have a deep understanding of a foreign culture in order to be comfortable with borrowing a foreign country’s law.
  2. I don’t know; I haven’t studied the issue, and have only a few cases.

V.     Law & Economics

Professor Michael Dorf: I detect in your academic work (and to a lesser extent your work as a judge) a gradual drift from an economic analysis of law to pragmatism more broadly. Do you agree with that assessment, and if so, what do you think accounts for it?

[RC: Professor Dorf wrote the biographical entry on Judge Posner for the Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law (2009).]

Judge Posner: You’re correct. It is partly a result of the inroads that psychology has made on economic analysis, partly a result of the economic profession’s failure to understand finance and monetary policy in the period leading up to the crash of 2008, and (relatedly) the revelations of unexpected extensive greed and corruption in American business, not limited to the financial industry.

Professor Ryan Calo: You are famously skeptical of the idea that the law should protect the efforts of market participants to conceal information about themselves. But the beauty of markets lies precisely in their ability to facilitate transactions between parties with wildly disparate backgrounds, tastes, and views — people who otherwise would avoid one another, but come together on the basis of a willingness to pay or receive a particular price.

How do you respond to the contention that a world without a meaningful degree of privacy in such situations would be a world full of balkanized, and hence deeply inefficient, markets?

Posner on Privacy

Judge Posner: I’m not opposed to legal protection of privacy. But I do regard privacy as a common means by which people present a misleading impression of themselves, often deceiving the people with whom they deal, either personally or in transacting. So I think we must be careful not to overprotect privacy.

Justice Hans A. Linde (ret.): You are widely known for linking law and economics and for advocating a pragmatic jurisprudence. These seem to pose two problems for a federal judge:

  1. Federal cases often arise from acts of Congress, not judge-made common law. What should a judge do when an enactment plainly places some people’s non-economic demands over the economic interests of the majority?
  2. Other disputes are between citizens of different states (or nations) that may have different legal answers to the disputed issue. How should a federal judge choose which state’s law applies to the case? That is, should a judge choose the laws of the state that is economically preferable, or is the choice prescribed by law?

MET-AJ-POSNER-0919Judge Posner:

  1. If a statute is clear, and constitutional, then I am bound. But the statutory provisions that get involved in appellate litigation very often are unclear, and then the judge has considerable freedom to select the interpretation that makes the most sense, though it won’t always be an economic sense.
  2. Conflict of law rules seem to me readily understandable in economic terms. If one thinks of the reasons for applying one state’s law rather than another’s, they generally have to do with which state has the greater interest in regulating the activity that gave rise to the suit. That’s the basis of lex loci delicti, which continues to be a sound doctrine that has largely survived modern loosey-goosey conflicts doctrine.

VI.     The Record of a Case

Professor Frederick Schauer: You tend to go beyond the record, the briefs, and oral argument more often than most appellate judges, and you have noted that you have been criticized for it. Could you explain your practice, explain the criticism, and explain why you think the criticism misses the mark?

Judge Posner: I find that the briefs and arguments, and lower-court opinions, very often do not answer the questions that I think are important to a sound understanding of the case. So, I look for the answers, often by an Internet search. I tell lawyers if you don’t like me doing that, do it yourselves. I do try to be sensitive to risk of error in judicial fact research. I understand the criticism, because the lawyers want to control the case. They invoke the glories of the adversary system. I think the adversary system is overrated. Not that I want to convert to the inquisitorial system that prevails in Europe (except the U.K.) and most of the rest of the world, but I want to see the adversary system taken down a peg. I am a big fan of Fed. R. Evid. §706, which allows a judge to appoint his own expert witness, as opposed to having to depend entirely on party experts.

VII.     Experiential Knowledge Read More

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Mark Weiner, author of The Rule of the Clan, Wins Grawemeyer Award

I am thrilled to share that Mark Weiner has won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order for the ideas in his book, The Rule of Clan. As some of you know, Concurring Opinions hosted a symposium on Mark Weiner’s book, The Rule of the Clan. It was a heady exchange and much fun too. Mark is a dear friend and colleague. To see his work recognized in this way is most gratifying. The history of the award is rather interesting too. H. Charles Grawemeyer trained as a chemical engineer, had success as an industrialist, and endowed the award “to honor powerful ideas in five fields in performing arts, the humanities, and the social sciences.Winners in the World Order category include Mikhail Gorbachev, Samuel Huntington, John Braithwaite and Peter Drahos, and Erica Chenoweth among many others. So again, congratulations to Mark who is continuing his slacker ways with new work while at the University of Salzburg, Austria, this spring as a Fulbright Scholar. I expect another great set of ideas and work is in Mark’s and our future.