The Responsible Judge: Readings in Judicial Ethics

The Responsible Judge: Readings in Judicial Ethics

The Responsible Judge: Readings in Judicial Ethics

The Responsible Judge: Readings in Judicial Ethics


This highly informed selection of readings on judicial ethics is singular in the authoritative commentary and experience offered by the editors. The work considers the various ways in which moral problems arise for judges. The three sections examine: the ideal, corrupt, and over-zealous judge; the "judging" role as it is affected by tensions rising from not only the facts of a case and legal precedents but also from personal beliefs and social expectations; and, in the final section, the judge's need for independence and its relationship to accountability and the avoidance of abuse. This work is a balanced, comprehensive, and constructive volume reflecting on the moral issues involved in sitting in judgment.


Chief Justice Ralegh, who wrote the first great treatise on English law, said that he wrote to instruct "the lesser judges." Ralegh had given up on the judges at the top, whom he knew well. They were beyond correction or education. We are not so pessimistic, but the lesser judges are our main audience, including those who are not judges in name but are often in fact--the law clerks. The law clerks, at almost all levels of the American system, do research, prepare advisory memoranda, and draft opinions, to such a degree that they are very close to the judicial function, if not actually performing it. Beyond the judges themselves, our audience is the array of lawyers and officials and legislators and journalists, who in one way or another keep judges responsible. To perform their work they should have a sense of what judicial responsibility entails.

We speak of those already acting as judges or law clerks or prosecutors or defense counsel or bar association officers or lawmakers or editorial writers, but of course we mean to include all who aspire to such positions. In advance of their being in office, this book is intended for their education. There are, in addition, those who will fulfill none of the above functions but who simply desire to understand the nature of the judicial task and the ethical duties it entails. Students of society, observers or teachers of social morality, they can learn from a book addressed to the ethical expectations that society has formed for judges.


The ethical is the good, understood in context. Isn't all ethics reducible to formulas such as Do your duty, Love your neighbor, etc.? Yes, but to understand what is required of a given function it is necessary to examine the function fully and specifically. Blackstone said that judges were oracles, and this astonishing metaphor has won the approval of Learned Hand. But judges are not much like oracles who, so far as we have been able to ascertain, did not read briefs, did not give reasoned responses, and did not have to account to anyone.

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