Friday, April 10, 2015

Leiter, Priel and Barzun on American Legal Realism

Legal Realism is the subject of two recent papers posted on SSRN.  Brian Leiter, University of Chicago Law School, has posted Legal Realism and Legal Doctrine, which is forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review (2015):
In this contribution to the symposium on "The New Doctrinalism," I argue that American Legal Realists did not reject doctrine, because the Realists did not reject the idea that judges decide cases in accordance with normative standards of some kind: "doctrine" after all is just a normative standard about what should be done, but one formulated and made explicit by a statute or a court or a treatise. A judge who decides cases based on the norm "this breach of contract is efficient" still decides based on a normative standard, even if it is not one that the law necessarily endorses. But the non-legal normative standards of yesterday can become the legally binding norms of tomorrow. What the Legal Realists taught us is that too often the doctrine that courts invoke is not really the normative standard upon which they really rely. And it was central to Legal Realism to reform the law to make the actual doctrine cited by courts and treatise writers correspond to the actual normative standards upon which judges rely. Doctrine remains so important today, as many of the contributions to this symposium show, precisely because the realist law reform movement was successful in so many arenas.
Dan Priel, Osgoode Hall Law School, and Charles L. Barzun, University of Virginia School of Law, have posted Legal Realism and Natural Law, forthcoming in Law, Theory and History: New Essays on a Neglected Topic, ed. Maksymilian Del Mar & Michael Lobban (2015):
The possibility of any meaningful relationship between the legal realists and natural law looks at first rather far-fetched. When it first appeared on the jurisprudential scene, legal realism was savagely attacked by proponents of natural law theory. To this day legal realism is depicted as a modernist, critical, at times almost nihilist approach to law, the polar opposite of the ancient natural law theory that traces its roots to Greek and Roman philosophy, and insists on unchanging objective values. And yet, two of the most famous legal realists, Karl Llewellyn and Jerome Frank, expressed in some of their writings more than a passing endorsement of natural law theory. The purpose of this essay is to try and explain this seemingly odd aspect of their work and in this way help in reassessing their work. We do so by explaining how they understood natural law and how they incorporated it in their work. Though they did not understand the term in precisely the same way, for both of them natural law was connected to the values of the community, which both of them thought were central to understanding law, for explaining how it could remain relatively certain, and ultimately, how it derived its authority.

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