Richard Posner

Richard Posner
Richard Posner
Chicago School of Economics
Richard posner harvardz.JPG
Posner speaking at the Harvard Federalist Society, 2009.
Born January 11, 1939 (1939-01-11) (age 72)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Alma mater Yale University
Harvard University

Richard Allen Posner (born January 11, 1939) is an American jurist, legal theorist, and economist who is currently a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. He is an influential figure in the law and economics school of thought.

Posner has been called "the world’s most distinguished legal scholar."[1] He is the author of nearly 40 books on jurisprudence, economics, and several other topics, including Economic Analysis of Law, The Economics of Justice, The Problems of Jurisprudence, Sex and Reason, Law, Pragmatism and Democracy, and The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy. The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Posner as the most cited legal scholar of the 20th century.[2]


Early life and education

Born in New York City, Posner graduated from Yale College (A.B., 1959, summa cum laude), majoring in English, and from Harvard Law School (LL.B., 1962, magna cum laude), where he was first in his class[3] and president of the Harvard Law Review. After clerking for Justice William J. Brennan of the United States Supreme Court during the 1962-63 term, he served as Attorney-Advisor to Federal Trade Commissioner Philip Elman; he would later argue that the Federal Trade Commission ought to be abolished.[3] He went on to work in the Office of the Solicitor General in the U.S. Department of Justice, under Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall.[3]

Legal career

In 1968, Posner accepted a position teaching at Stanford Law School.[3] In 1969, Posner moved to the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School, where he remains a Senior Lecturer and where his son Eric Posner is a Professor. He was a founding editor of the Journal of Legal Studies in 1972.

On October 27, 1981, Posner was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated by Philip Willis Tone.[4] Posner was confirmed by the United States Senate on November 24, 1981, and received his commission on December 1, 1981. He served as Chief Judge of that court from 1993 to 2000, while remaining a part-time professor at the University of Chicago.[4]

Posner is a pragmatist in philosophy, a classical liberal in politics, and an economist in legal methodology. He is a prolific author of articles and books on a wide range of topics including law and economics, law and literature, the federal judiciary, moral theory, intellectual property, antitrust law, public intellectuals, and legal history. He is also well known for writing on a wide variety of current events including the 2000 presidential election recount controversy, President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky[4] and his resulting impeachment procedure, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His analysis of the Lewinsky scandal cut across most party and ideological divisions. Posner's greatest influence is through his writings on law and economics—The New York Times called him "one of the most important antitrust scholars of the past half-century." In December 2004, Posner started a joint blog with Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker.[5] He also has a blog at The Atlantic, where he discusses the financial crisis.[6]

Posner was mentioned in 2005 as a potential nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor because of his prominence as a scholar and an appellate judge. Robert S. Boynton has written in The Washington Post that he believes Posner will never sit on the Supreme Court because, despite his "obvious brilliance," he has taken a number of "outrageous" positions, such as his contention "that the rule of law is an accidental and dispensable element of legal ideology"; his argument that buying and selling children on the free market would lead to better outcomes than the present situation, government-regulated adoption; and his support for the legalization of marijuana and LSD.[7]

Legal positions

Judge Posner making a dinner speech at Federal Trade Commission

In Posner's youth and in the 1960s as law clerk to William J. Brennan he was generally counted as a liberal. However, in reaction to some of the perceived excesses of the late 1960s, Posner developed a strongly conservative bent. He encountered Chicago School economists Aaron Director and George Stigler while a professor at Stanford.[3] Posner summarized his views on law and economics in his 1973 book The Economic Analysis of Law.[3]

Today, although generally considered a figure of the right, Posner's pragmatism, his qualified moral relativism and moral skepticism,[8] and his affection for the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche set him apart from most American conservatives. Among his other influences are the American jurists Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Learned Hand.


He has written several opinions sympathetic to abortion rights, including a decision holding "partial-birth abortion" constitutionally protected in some circumstances.[9]

Animal rights

Posner engaged in a debate on the ethics of using animals in research with the philosopher Peter Singer in 2001 at Slate magazine. He argues that animal rights conflicts with the moral relevance of humanity, and that empathy for pain and suffering of animals does not supersede advancing society.[10] He further argues that he trusts his moral intuition until it is shown to be wrong, and that his moral intuition says "it is wrong to give as much weight to a dog's pain as to an infant's pain." He leaves open the possibility that facts on animal and human cognition can and may change his intuition in the future; he further states that people whose opinions were changed by consideration of the ethics presented in Singer's book Animal Liberation failed to see the "radicalism of the ethical vision that powers [their] view on animals, an ethical vision that finds greater value in a healthy pig than in a profoundly retarded child, that commands inflicting a lesser pain on a human being to avert a greater pain to a dog, and that, provided only that a chimpanzee has 1 percent of the mental ability of a normal human being, would require the sacrifice of the human being to save 101 chimpanzees."[10]


Along with Robert Bork, Posner helped shape the antitrust policy changes of the 1970s through his idea that 1960s antitrust laws were in fact making prices higher for the consumer rather than lower, while he viewed lower prices as the essential end goal of any antitrust policy.[3] Posner and Bork's theories on antitrust evolved into the prevailing view in academia and at the Justice Department of the George H.W. Bush Administration.[3]

The Bluebook

Posner is "one of the founding fathers of Bluebook abolitionism, having advocated it for almost twenty-five years, ever since his 1986 U of Chicago Law Review article[11] on the subject."[1] In a 2011 Yale Law Journal article,[12] he wrote that:

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation exemplifies hypertrophy in the anthropological sense. It is a monstrous growth, remote from the functional need for legal citation forms, that serves obscure needs of the legal culture and its student subculture.[1]

Breach of contract

He has written favorably of efficient breach of contracts.[13] Breach often leads to a worse result for society: if a seller breaches a contract to deliver building materials, the buyer's workers might go idle while the buyer looks for a replacement. The lost production is a cost to the company and its workers and, as such, is a social cost. An efficient breach would be a situation in which the benefits are higher than the costs, because the seller is better off for breaching even after paying damages to the buyer (for instance, if some third party had a much greater need for the building materials, and was willing to pay a price high enough to both out-price the original receiver and offset the realized costs of breach of contract).


He has characterized the U.S.'s "War on Drugs" as "quixotic". In a 2003 CNBC interview, he discussed the difficulty of enforcing criminal marijuana laws and asserted that it is hard to justify the criminalization of marijuana compared to other substances.


Posner supported the creation of a law barring hyperlinks or paraphrasing of copyrighted material as a means to prevent what he views as free riding on newspaper journalism.[14][15][16] His co-blogger Gary Becker simultaneously posted a contrasting opinion that while the Internet might hurt newspapers, it will not harm the vitality of the press, but rather embolden it.[17]

Video Recording Police

As a judge on the 7th Circuit in Chicago, weighing a challenge to the state’s Eavesdropping Act, which bars the secret recording of conversations without the consent of all the parties to the conversation. At issue was the constitutionality of the Illinois wiretapping law, which makes it illegal to record someone without his consent even when filming public acts like arrests in public. Posner was one of three judges and interrupted the ACLU after just 14 words, stating “Yeah, I know,. But I’m not interested, really, in what you want to do with these recordings of peoples’ encounters with the police.” Posner continued: “Once all this stuff can be recorded, there’s going to be a lot more of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers . . . I’m always suspicious when the civil liberties people start telling the police how to do their business.” [18]


In a dissent from an earlier ruling by his protege Frank Easterbrook, Posner wrote that Easterbrook's decision that female guards could watch male prisoners while in the shower or bathroom must stem from a belief that prisoners are "members of a different species, indeed as a type of vermin, devoid of human dignity and entitled to no respect.... I do not myself consider the 1.5 million inmates of American prisons and jails in that light."[3]


He famously opposed the right of privacy in 1981, arguing that the kinds of interests protected under privacy are not distinctive. He contended that privacy is protected in ways that are economically inefficient.


When reviewing Alan Dershowitz's book, "Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge", Posner wrote in The New Republic, September 2002 that "If torture is the only means of obtaining the information necessary to prevent the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Times Square, torture should be used—and will be used—to obtain the information. ... no one, who doubts that this is the case, should be in a position of responsibility."[19][20]

Judicial career

Posner is one of the most prolific legal writers, through both the number and topical breadth of his opinions, to say nothing of his scholarly and popular writings.[21] Unlike many judges, he writes all his own opinions.[3] Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow lavished praise on Posner's fecundity, observing: "he [Posner] is an apparently inexhaustible writer on…nearly everything. To call him a polymath would be a gross understatement. . . Judge Posner evidently writes the way other men breathe."[22]

Aside from the sheer volume of his output, Posner's opinions enjoy great respect from other judges, based on citations, and within the legal academy, where his opinions are taught in many foundational law courses. For example, his opinion in Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. v. American Cyanamid Co., a staple of first year Torts courses taught in American law schools, where the case is used to address the question of when it is better to use negligence liability or strict liability.[23]

In his decision in the 1997 case State Oil Co. v. Khan, Posner wrote that a ruling 1968 antitrust precedent set by the Supreme Court was "moth-eaten", "wobbly", and "unsound".[3] Nevertheless, he abided by the previous decision with his ruling.[3] The Supreme Court granted certiorari and overturned the 1968 ruling unanimously; Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the opinion and spoke positively of both Posner's criticism and his decision to abide by the ruling until the Court decided to change it.[24]

In 1999, Posner was welcomed as a private mediator among the parties involved in the Microsoft antitrust case.[4]

Awards and honors

A 2004 poll by Legal Affairs magazine named Posner as one of the top twenty legal thinkers in the U.S.[25]

In 2008, the University of Chicago Law Review published a commemorative issue titled “Commemorating Twenty-five Years of Judge Richard A. Posner."[26] A website, Project Posner, details all of Posner's many legal opinions.[27] It was begun by Posner's former clerk, Tim Wu, who calls Posner "probably America's greatest living jurist."[21] Another of Posner's former legal clerks, Lawrence Lessig, wrote: "There isn't a federal judge I respect more, both as a judge and person."[28] The former dean of Yale Law School, Anthony T. Kronman, said that Posner was "one of the most rational human beings" he had ever met.[3]


The following is a selection of Posner's writings.

Selected books

Selected articles

See also


  1. ^ a b c Somin, Ilya (2011-01-25) Richard Posner on the Bluebook, Volokh Conspiracy
  2. ^ Shapiro, Fred R. (2000). "The Most-Cited Legal Scholars". Journal of Legal Studies 29 (1): 409–426. doi:10.1086/468080. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Parloff, Roger (2000-01-10). "The Negotiator: No one doubts that Richard Posner is a brilliant judge and . . . .". Fortune Magazine. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  4. ^ a b c d Brinkley, Joel (1999-11-20). "Microsoft Case Gets U.S. Judge As a Mediator". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  5. ^ "The Becker-Posner Blog". Gary Becker and Richard Posner. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Boynton, Robert S. Boynton. "'Sounding Off,' a review of Richard Posner's Public Intellectuals", The Washington Post Book World, January 20, 2002.
  8. ^ Richard Posner, The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory, 111 HARV. L. REV. 1637, 1642-46 (1998) (clarifying his moral positions)
  9. ^ Rubin, Alissa (1999-02-11) Anti-Abortion Advocates Gain Ground in Late-Term Debate, Los Angeles Times
  10. ^ a b Posner-Singer debate at Slate
  11. ^ Goodbye to the Bluebook, 53 U. Chi L. Rev. 1343 (1986)
  12. ^ The Bluebook Blues, 120 Yale L.J. 850 (2011)
  13. ^ Lake River Corp. v. Carborundum Co., 769 F.2d 1284 (7th Cir. 1985)
  14. ^ "The Future of Newspapers". Richard Posner. 2009-06-23. Retrieved 2010-06-17. [dead link]
  15. ^ reaction on slashdot
  16. ^ reaction on
  17. ^ "The Social Cost of the Decline of Newspapers?". Gary Becker. 2009-06-23. Retrieved 2010-06-17. [dead link]
  18. ^ "Tell Us, Judge Posner, Who Watches the Watchmen?". By Justin Silverman. 
  19. ^ Michael Slackman What's Wrong With Torturing a Qaeda Higher-Up?, New York Times May 16, 2004
  20. ^ Philip Hensher Hollywood is helping us learn to love torture, The Independent, June 26, 2007
  21. ^ a b Lattman, Peter (2006-10-06). "A Paean to the Opinions of the Prolific Judge Posner". The Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  22. ^ Solow, Robert M. (2009-04-16). "How to Understand the Disaster". N.Y. Review of Books. Retrieved 2011-04-30. 
  23. ^ Rosenberg, David (2007). "The Judicial Posner on Negligence Versus Strict Liability: Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. v. American Cyanamid Co.". Harvard Law Review 120 (5): 1210–1222. JSTOR 40042013. 
  24. ^ Savage, David G. (1997-11-05). "High Court Approves Retail Price Ceilings". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  25. ^ Lattman, Peter (2008-01-17). "The Inimitable Judge Posner Strikes Again". The Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  26. ^ "Project Posner". Project Posner. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  27. ^ "Project Posner". Lawrence Lessig. 2006-10-18. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Philip Tone
Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Preceded by
William Bauer
Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Succeeded by
Joel Flaum

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