Arguing with Friends

30 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2017 Last revised: 26 Nov 2018

See all articles by William Baude

William Baude

University of Chicago - Law School

Ryan Doerfler

Harvard Law School

Date Written: 2018


Judges sometimes disagree about the best way to resolve a case. But the conventional wisdom is that they should not be too swayed by such disagreement, and should do their best to decide the case by their own lights. An emerging critique questions this view, arguing instead for widespread humility. In the face of disagreement, the argument goes, judges should generally concede ambiguity and uncertainty in almost all contested cases.

Both positions are wrong. Drawing on the philosophical concepts of “peer disagreement” and “epistemic peerhood,” we argue for a different approach: Judges ought to give significant weight to the views of others, but only when those others share the judge’s basic methodology or interpretive outlook – i.e., only when those others are methodological “friends.” Thus textualists should hesitate before disagreeing with other textualists, and pragmatists should hesitate before disagreeing with like-minded pragmatists. Disagreement between the two camps is, by contrast, “old news” and so provides neither camp additional reason for pause.

We also suggest that judges should give weight to the views of all of their methodological friends, not just judges. And we suggest, even more tentatively, that our proposal may explain and, to some extent, justify the seemingly ideological clusters of justices on the Supreme Court. The most productive disagreements, we think, are ones that come from arguing with friends.

Keywords: Judges, Disagreement, Peer, Epistemic, Epistemic Peer, Peer Disagreement, Methodology, Interpretation, Friends

Suggested Citation

Baude, William and Doerfler, Ryan, Arguing with Friends (2018). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 117, p. 319, 2018, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 17-27, Available at SSRN: or

William Baude (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Ryan Doerfler

Harvard Law School ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States

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