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The Lawless Adjudicator

Robin L. West

Georgetown University Law Center

May 25, 2011

Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 26, 2005
Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-57

First, on the "lawless adjudicator." The question I want to pose is this: Why is it so hard for the legal academy – and the legal profession – to come to grips with the bare logic of the charge, much less the case, that Vere acted lawlessly, and therefore criminally, and indeed murderously, when he willfully distorted the governing law, so as to execute Billy? Why has this quite specific legal claim not received more of a hearing? Is it because Weisberg was not sufficiently considerate in his communication of this idea? On first blush that seems implausible: It is one thing, after all, to argue syllogistically that Claggart is Christ, that Claggart is a villain, and that therefore Christ is a villain-one can see why that claim may require considerate communication – but the indictment of the fictional Vere in a nineteenth century novella? Why has it proven so hard for the academy to hear Weisberg's claim that Vere is a murderer? Here is the syllogism: Vere was charged with the duty to uphold the law, he betrayed the law and his duty to apply it in order to execute an innocent man, and he did it knowingly, intentionally, and with plenty of malice aforethought, and for the most profoundly personal, political reasons. Therefore, Vere is a lawless adjudicator, a dissembler, a criminal, a murderer. Does that straightforward legal argument – that an adjudicator is a man to whom the power to declare what the law is has been delegated; that an adjudicator might be a criminal, and might achieve criminal ends, through dissembling, misrepresenting, or perverting legal texts, and thereby through breaching a trust – itself require considerate communication? Has our faith in adjudication reached such absurd heights that the lawless or criminal adjudicator has become an unthinkable oxymoron? Or, have our expectations dropped so low that the phrase "lawless adjudicator" has become redundant, so self evident, that the presentation, the claim, that an adjudicator is lawless, is just a trite, banal, and unnecessary restatement of a mode of being always and already present in courts of law?

Number of Pages in PDF File: 11

Keywords: Richard Weisberg, jurisprudence, law, philosophy, law in literature, judicial power, judicial overreach, injustice

JEL Classification: K00, K10

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Date posted: May 27, 2011  

Suggested Citation

West, Robin L., The Lawless Adjudicator (May 25, 2011). Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-57; Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 26, 2005; Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-57. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1847989

Contact Information

Robin L. West (Contact Author)
Georgetown University Law Center ( email )
600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
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