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Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Who was the most important thinker in American law of the 20th-Century?

Four main criteria were used in coming up with the list of contenders below:   (1) for those born in the 19th-century, most of the thinker's important work must have been done in the 20th-century; (2) those thinkers who are still alive must have entered the profession in the 1960s or earlier; (3) the thinker must have made contributions in more than one field; (4) the thinker's contributions must have had a wide-ranging impact on American legal thinking and scholarship.  I think these are 11 reasonable contenders, but I will be curious to see how readers of this blog vote.  I don't mind if blogs with a large law readership link to this survey, but I'd ask that those with a mixed readership or clear ideological agendas not link to it for a few days, so we can get a mostly law-based response.

Who was the most important thinker in American law of the 20th-Century?




View Results
Free web poll from Free Website Polls

UPDATE MARCH 4 (6:30 am CST):  so with not quite 450 votes in, here are the results so far:  1.  Richard Posner (33%); 2.  Benjamin Cardozo (15%); 3.  Ronald Dworkin (11%); 4.  Henry M. Hart, Jr. (10%); 5.  Karl Llewellyn (9%).  Calabresi (with 6%) and Epstein (with 5%) seem the only ones who have a shot at the top five at this point.  I am surprised Fuller and Wechsler did not do better--the myopia of the present, perhaps.

A FINAL UPDATE (MARCH 5, 1:30 pm CST): so with not quite 750 votes, here are what I'm going to treat as the final results of the poll:

1.  Richard Posner (29%)

2.  Benjamin Cardozo (15%)

3.  Ronald Dworkin (12%)

4.  Karl Llewellyn (10%)

5.  Henry M. Hart, Jr. (9%)

6.  Guido Calabresi (6%)

7.  Richard Epstein (5%)

8.  Roscoe Pound (4%)

8.  Herbert Wechsler (4%)

10. Bruce Ackerman (3%)

10. Lon Fuller (3%)

Allowing for the utterly unsystematic nature of this survey, the top five strike me as not unreasonable.  Notwithstanding my (and most legal philosophers') dim view of Dworkin's work in legal philosophy, there is no doubt that his conception of adjudication, with its debt to Henry Hart's work and that of the legal process school, has had an important influence across many parts of legal scholarship.  (What I have discovered over time is that most legal scholars do not realize that his attractive picture of the relevance of moral considerations in adjudication is a view that any legal positivist can happily embrace--one of many ways, of course, in which Dworkin has muddied the jurisprudential waters.)

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» No Holmes? from The Faculty Lounge
Following Calvin's lead, I see that Brian Leiter's polling about the most significant legal thinker in the twentieth century. I was pleased to see the person I voted for (Benjamin Cardozo) was doing quite well (ranked second so far, behind... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 4, 2009 6:07:20 AM