Who Needs Rules of Recognition?
New York University School of Law
March 12, 2009
THE RULE OF RECOGNITION AND THE U.S. CONSTITUTION, Matthew Adler and Kenneth Himma, eds., Oxford University Press, Forthcoming
NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 09-21
I argue against the idea (made popular by H.L.A. Hart) that the key to a legal system is its "rule of recognition." I argue that much of the work allegedly done by a rule of recognition is either done by a different kind of secondary rule (what Hart called "a rule of change") or it is not done at all (and doesn't have to be done). A rule of change tells us the procedures that must be followed and the substantive conditions that must be satisfied if law is to be changed legislatively; and a judge "recognizes" changes simply by using this checklist. In common law, there is no clear rule of change (because we are profoundly ambivalent about judicial lawmaking). But we get by without one, and without a determinate rule of recognition that would tell us precisely how to infer rules from precedents. It is quite liberating, really, to abandon the idea of a rule of recognition. Apart from anything else, it relieves us from having to participate in endless debates about whether the US Constitution is (or contains) a rule of recognition for American law. The Constitution contains rules of change; that's what matters.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 28
Keywords: certainty, closure, common law, constitution, grundnorm, H.L.A. Hart, Hans Kelsen, Jeremy Bentham, jurisprudence, legal positivism, rule of change, rule of recognition
Date posted: March 13, 2009 ; Last revised: April 8, 2009