Judges have the law in common and think differently from each other about it. The differences might be easier for us to see and accept when the common subject is something smaller and less vital—say, a book.
I’ve recently read reviews by both retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens and the nation’s best-known federal appellate judge, Richard J. Posner, on The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, by William Stuntz, a law professor at Harvard who died earlier this year. The New York Review of Books, for which Stevens wrote, and the New Republic, Posner’s venue, gave them plenty of space, and they made the most of it. Both greatly respect Stuntz’s book, but they have issues, and these begin with the title. “I would not characterize the defects in American criminal justice that he describes as a ‘collapse,’ and I found his chapter about ‘Earl Warren’s Errors’ surprisingly unpersuasive,” writes Stevens. “The American criminal justice system is not in a state of collapse, or even in any danger of collapse,” writes Posner.