October 08, 2020

Some jurisprudential articles

"The Roles of Judges in Democracies:  A Realistic View" is now out in Journal of Institutional Studies, and  will also be reprinted in P. Chiassoni & B. Spaic (eds.), Judges and Adjudication in Constitutional Democracies: A View from Legal Realism (Springer, 2021).  From the abstract (taken from the penultimate SSRN version):

What are the “obligations” of judges in democracies? An adequate answer requires us to be realistic both about democracies and about law. Realism about democracy demands that we recognize that electoral outcomes are largely, though not entirely, unrelated to concrete policy choices by elected representatives or to the policy preferences of voters, who typically follow their party based on “tribal” loyalties. The latter fact renders irrelevant the classic counter-majoritarian (or counter-democratic) worries about judicial review. Realism about law requires that we recognize that judges, especially on appellate courts, will inevitably have to render moral and political judgments in order to produce authoritative resolutions of disputes, one of the central functions of a legal system in any society. That means it is impossible to discuss the “obligations” of judges without regard to their actual moral and political views, as well as the moral and political ends we believe ought to be achieved.

"Critical Remarks on Shapiro's Legality and the 'Grounding Turn' in Recent Jurisprudence," is now up on SSRN; here's the abstract:

The essay discusses some difficulties in Scott Shapiro’s LEGALITY (2011).  Many are well-known among specialists, but I set them out systematically here for the benefit of non-specialists.  These include the mischaracterization of core jurisprudential questions in terms of “grounding” relations, which unfortunately erases the major natural law positions in the field (e.g., those of Finnis and Murphy), and results in a version of “positivism” that major legal positivists (e.g., Hart) do not accept (cf. pp. 2, 10-13); but also the false claims that:  (1) “knowledge of law is normative” such that to say X has “a legal right is to draw a normative conclusion” (cf. p. 15); (2) officials have a legal obligation to follow the rule of recognition (cf. p. 17); and (3) Hart commits a “category mistake” in his discussion of social rules (cf. p. 19).  The essay also criticizes Shapiro’s discussion of jurisprudential methodology (pp. 3-8) and his (Dworkinian) attempt to show that the answer to jurisprudential questions matters to how courts should decide cases (pp. 13-14). 

The SSRN version will remain on-line and is citable, but much of the material will probably migrate into my From a Realist Point of View (Oxford University Press, forthcoming in 2022 or 2023).

Finally, "The Naturalized Epistemology Approach to Evidence," (co-authored with Gabe Broughton, who is the lead author) is also on SSRN, and will appear in C. Dahlman, A. Stein, & G. Tuzet (eds.), Philosophical Foundations of Evidence Law (Oxford University Press, 2021).  Here is the abstract:

Continue reading

October 8, 2020 in Jurisprudence | Permalink

September 26, 2020

Harvard's Noah Feldman thinks his friends and former co-clerks are "brilliant" and should be on SCOTUS

That's the short version, I think.  (I could count on one hand the number of "brilliant" people I've met in the legal academy, but maybe I don't use it in the hyberbolic way Yale graduates do!)  Joking aside, there's no doubt Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a smart and capable lawyer.  But Professor Feldman knows as well as I do that those are a dime a dozen, and that the only reason she was chosen from among the many dozens was because she is a religious conservative whom religious conservatives expect will exercise her inevitable discretion in a way congenial to their moral and political objectives.  Why not educate the public about what the Supreme Court really does and why the moral and political views of the nominees matter, instead of offering up misleading bromides like she "will analyze and decide cases in good faith, applying the jurisprudential principles to which she is committed"?   All judges who act in good faith and with adherence to their "principles" will nonetheless have to make moral and political choices on the Supreme Court.  Once we get over that low bar of acting in good faith in accordance with "principles," the real question is what will the nominee's moral and political choices be?

September 26, 2020 in Faculty News, Jurisprudence, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

September 21, 2020

What is court packing?

Since my e-mail "interview" with NPR is showing up in lots of stories, let me say a bit more.

"Court packing" is typically used to refer to FDR's proposal in the 1930s to expand the size of the Supreme Court, which had been holding New Deal legislation unconstitutional.  The idea was that FDR would add justices sympatico to the New Deal, and thus change the political leanings of the Court that would, in turn, influence its constitutional decisions.

FDR's proposed method of court packing was to expand the court, which would change a century-old norm governing the court's composition.  But the essence of court packing is not expanding the size of the court, it is changing the norms governing Supreme Court appointments for partisan ends:  you can do that by expanding the size of the Court, or you can do it, as Senator McConnell did in 2016, by denying a sitting President even a vote on his nominee for a vacancy on the Court, also a massive violation of an established norm.

Senator McConnell could, perhaps, have been trying to start a new norm, but now it's clear (if anyone had doubts) that was not what he was doing:  he wants to pack the court for partisan ends by adjusting the norms for appointments to suit his political preferences, one rule for 2016 when a Democrat is President, another for 2020 when a Republican is President.

Continue reading

September 21, 2020 in Jurisprudence, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

September 16, 2020

Today in falsehoods about Nietzsche, courtesy of the "Jurisprudence & Legal Philosophy ejournal" from SSRN...

...which is one of the handful I subscribe to, even though about a quarter of the content is not "jurisprudence & legal philosophy" (authors self-select categories, and the ejournal editors are rather too tolerant).  Yesterday's ejournal included a piece by Professor Nicholas Aroney (Queensland), whom I do not know, writing about "The Rise and Fall of Dignity," which at least is relevant to the ejournal's subject.   Alas, the abstract reports that, "Defining human dignity solely in terms of human freedom and autonomy has resulted in a hollowing, flattening and atomizing of human dignity, culminating in the postmodern thought of Friedrich Nietzsche in which human dignity is reduced to the ‘will to power’...."   Put aside the inapposite epithet "postmodern," the real problem is that Nietzsche has no account of "human dignity," let alone a reductive one, let alone one that reduces it to "will to power" (whatever that would mean, I've no idea).   Readers beware!

September 16, 2020 in Jurisprudence | Permalink

September 01, 2020

"Legal Positivism as a Realist Theory of Law"

The penultimate version is now online; main change was in the final section, discussing Raz's "Service Conception" of authority.

September 1, 2020 in Jurisprudence | Permalink

June 16, 2020

"Contemporary Legal Realism"

A special journal issue of solicited contributions at Iuris Dictio, a law journal from Ecuador.  Some, but not all, of the essays are in English.  Besides my own essay, there are contributions by the leading figures in contemporary Italian and French legal realism (Riccardo Guastini and Michel Troper, respectively).

June 16, 2020 in Jurisprudence | Permalink

April 29, 2020

"What is a realist theory of law?"

This article of mine is now out in the Journal of Institutional Studies, edited by faculty at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, for those who might be interested.  (Most articles in Portuguese, but mine appears in English.  A Spanish translation will also appear this year in Revista Iuris Dictio in Ecuador.)

April 29, 2020 in Jurisprudence | Permalink

April 27, 2020

The realist critique of "formalism" according to Solum

Larry Solum's Legal Theory Lexicon is a useful resource, although I don't always agree with all its entries.  This one on the "realist" critique of formalism is really just a description of the argument in one paper by Felix Cohen.  It's a fine description of the argument in that paper but it is not representative of legal realism.  (On formalism and realism, with reference to Brian Tamanaha's confused and misleading treatment, see also.)

April 27, 2020 in Jurisprudence | Permalink

April 02, 2020

Adrian Vermeule, redux

So it appears the notorious tweets that we noted recently were not anomalous, as Professor Vermeule's latest public foray into morbid reactionary fantasies suggests:

[O]ne can imagine an illiberal legalism that is not “conservative” at all, insofar as standard conservatism is content to play defensively within the procedural rules of the liberal order.


This approach should take as its starting point substantive moral [sic] principles that conduce to the common good, principles that officials (including, but by no means limited to, judges) should read into the majestic generalities and ambiguities of the written Constitution. These principles include respect for the authority of rule and of rulers; respect for the hierarchies needed for society to function; solidarity within and among families, social groups, and workers’ unions, trade associations, and professions; appropriate subsidiarity, or respect for the legitimate roles of public bodies and associations at all levels of government and society; and a candid willingness to “legislate morality”—indeed, a recognition that all legislation is necessarily founded on some substantive conception of morality [even wrong ones, apparently!], and that the promotion of morality is a core and legitimate function of authority...


[C]ommon-good constitutionalism does not suffer from a horror of political domination and hierarchy, because it sees that law is parental, a wise teacher and an inculcator of good habits. Just authority in rulers can be exercised for the good of subjects, if necessary even against the subjects’ own perceptions of what is best for them—perceptions that may change over time anyway, as the law teaches, habituates, and re-forms them. Subjects will come to thank the ruler whose legal strictures, possibly experienced at first as coercive, encourage subjects to form more authentic desires for the individual and common goods, better habits, and beliefs that better track and promote communal well-being....


The Court’s jurisprudence on free speech, abortion, sexual liberties, and related matters will prove vulnerable under a regime of common-good constitutionalism. The claim, from the notorious joint opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that each individual may “define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” should be not only rejected but stamped as abominable, beyond the realm of the acceptable forever after. So too should the libertarian assumptions central to free-speech law and free-speech ideology—that government is forbidden to judge the quality and moral worth of public speech, that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric,”  and so on—fall under the ax. Libertarian conceptions of property rights and economic rights will also have to go, insofar as they bar the state from enforcing duties of community and solidarity in the use and distribution of resources.

One hopes this does not mark the arrival of a "Harvard School" of constitutional fascism!

April 2, 2020 in Faculty News, Jurisprudence, Law Professors Saying Dumb Things, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

February 21, 2020

"What makes the San Diego originalism conference so good"...

...as described by my colleague Will Baude also explains exactly what makes the AALS annual meetings so worthless from an intellectual point of view.   The annual Analytic Legal Philosophy conferences used to be good in this way too for the first ten years or so, although not so much anymore unfortunately.

February 21, 2020 in Jurisprudence, Of Academic Interest | Permalink