Review - Constitutional Conscience: The Moral Dimension of Judicial Decision, by H. Jefferson Powell, and How Judges Think, by Richard A. Posner
9 Pages Posted: 11 May 2008 Last revised: 22 May 2008
This is a short review of two new books on judging - Constitutional Conscience: The Moral Dimension of Judicial Decision, by H. Jefferson Powell, and How Judges Think, by Richard A. Posner. Although both books examine the same topic, and both focus largely on judicial decision making by Supreme Court Justices in the area of constitutional law, their approaches diverge significantly. Powell takes a page from virtue ethics in offering an expansive and ruminative vision of the ethical virtues and vices that characterize the judge in a constitutional case. Posner brings his economist's toolkit, supplemented by a variety of disciplinary adjuncts and a bracing dose of pragmatism, to many of the same questions. Their goals are somewhat different, and their conclusions, despite some common ties, present a striking contrast. These books may be read as complementary and not just competitive accounts. Nevertheless, I suggest that Posner's account is far more descriptively accurate, although Powell leads us, commendably, to think about the ways in which we might reconsider and revive the kinds of constitutional virtues that are at the heart of his romantic account.
Keywords: posner, powell, judges, judging, virtue, virtue ethics, constitutional law, supreme court
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