What's Law Got to Do with It? What Judges Do, Why They Do It, and What's at Stake

By Charles Gardner Geyh | Go to book overview
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Introduction
So What Does Law Have to Do with It?

Charles Gardner Geyh

DURING THE RENAISSANCE, the ermine became a symbol of purity that English royalty and later English judges adopted by adorning their robes with ermine fur. American judges forwent the fur but retained the symbol, for reasons that were nicely articulated by the Tennessee Supreme Court, writing in 1872:

The idea that the judicial office is supposed to be invested with ermine, though
fabulous and mythical, is yet most eloquent in significance. We are told that the
little creature is so acutely sensitive as to its own cleanliness that it becomes par-
alyzed and powerless at the slightest touch of defilement upon its snow-white
fur. A like sensibility should belong to him who comes to exercise the august
functions of a judge …. But when once this great office becomes corrupted,
when its judgment comes to reflect the passions or interests of the magistrate
rather than the mandates of the law, the courts have ceased to be the conserva-
tors of the commonweal and the law itself is debauched into a prostrate and
nerveless mockery. (Harrison v. Wisdom, 54 Tenn. [7 Heisk.] 99 [1872]).

In short, the ermine embodies the norm of impartial justice and the premise that judges are to bracket out extraneous influences on their decision-making and base their decisions upon applicable facts and law. If the story began and ended there, the answer to the question posed by the title of this volume, “What’s law got to do with it?” would have to be: “Everything.”

In the aftermath of the legal realism movement, a cadre of political scientists, inspired by principles of behavioral psychology, developed what they

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