Color Commentators of the Bench

31 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2010

See all articles by Adam Benforado

Adam Benforado

Drexel University Kline School of Law

Date Written: October 22, 2010


Featuring prominently in the last four sets of Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the judge-as-umpire analogy has become the dominant frame for understanding the role of the Justice and may also now act as a significant constraint on judicial behavior. Strong criticisms from legal academics and journalists attacking the realism of the analogy have had little destabilizing effect. This Essay argues that the best hope for shifting the public conception of the work of a Justice is to offer a counter analogy that draws from an equally intuitive and familiar context, while also capturing the core essence of Supreme Court adjudication - the particular process of creative interpretation and explanation. The metaphor of the Justice as color commentator in the press box not only meets these criteria, but also makes explicit that judges are not robotic, objective arbiters. Moreover, in exposing the myth of judicial rationality and neutrality bolstered by the umpire analogy, the commentator alternative provides the possibility of helping Justices to better control for their biases and reducing damaging episodes of cognitive illiberalism. As further evidence of the appropriateness and robustness of the commentator analogy, the Essay concludes by demonstrating how sports commentating can be critiqued employing the precise implements developed by legal scholars to analyze judicial decision making.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Justices, Umpires, Judge as Umpire, Judicial Analogies, Role of the Judiciary, Cognitive Illiberalism, Mind Sciences, Judicial Behavior, Judicial Bias, Project on Law and Mind Sciences, Sports Law, Debiasing

Suggested Citation

Benforado, Adam, Color Commentators of the Bench (October 22, 2010). Florida State University Law Review, Vol. 38, 2011, Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law Research Paper No. 2010-A-18, Available at SSRN:

Adam Benforado (Contact Author)

Drexel University Kline School of Law ( email )

3320 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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