A practicing attorney and close observer of the federal courts examines the career of a present-day legal titan.
Each era produces a jurist who, while passed over for the Supreme Court, nevertheless exerts an outsized influence on the law. For our generation, that pre-eminent judge is Richard A. Posner (b. 1939) of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Measured in citations alone—i.e., the number of times other judges invoke his opinions as authority—Posner far outstrips any contemporary. Known principally for his pragmatism and economic analysis of law, he has authored thousands of opinions on a wide range of legal issues during his 35 years on the bench. His decisions are notable for their impeccable reasoning, broadly allusive language, original analysis, and memorable turns of phrase. In addition, as a teacher and scholar, legal reformer, frequent debater, lecturer, interviewee, and the author of more than 40 books and innumerable articles and essays, he has extended his provocative thinking and influence to an audience beyond the legal community. Relying on extensive interviews, a thorough familiarity with Posner’s formidable paper trail, and a forthright acknowledgment of the judge’s many critics—including the likes of philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Ronald Dworkin, former Harvard Law Dean Erwin Griswold, and Justice Antonin Scalia—Domnarski (Swimming in Deep Water: Lawyers, Judges, and Our Troubled Legal Profession, 2014, etc.) compiles a useful, well-informed guidebook to Posner. The author provides plenty of biographical information, most of it supplied early on in his treatment of the judge’s youth, his undergraduate and law school days, and his years in Washington, D.C. But the focus is on the work, on the issues and ideas that preoccupied Posner through the decades, first as a professor at Stanford and Chicago Law and then as an appellate judge.
Practitioners will better understand Posner’s impact on the law; general readers will appreciate this introduction to that increasingly rare breed: a public intellectual worthy of their time.