Judge Richard Posner

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  • Judge Richard Posner

The law. A perfect country for old men.

When they were young bucks in the 70s, Richard Posner and Antonin Scalia rode together—both teaching law at the University of Chicago. Then they went on to bigger things. Scalia, 76, sits on the Supreme Court and preaches the legal gospel of textual originalism. Posner, 73, is merely a federal appellate judge in Chicago, but posterity is likely to remember him as the more important jurist; his opinions are anthologized in law school casebooks more frequently than the opinions of any other living judge on any court. A pragmatist known for applying a cost-benefit analysis to the law, Posner considers himself the preeminent legal intellectual of his time. Scalia would not agree, but in not agreeing, Scalia would not enjoy a lot of company.

In June, Scalia produced a new book, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Text, which he wrote with Bryan A. Garner, a lawyer who’s the editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary. Reading Law touts 57 “canons of construction,” or principles by which judges should interpret laws, and notes in passing that Posner doesn’t think much of them, calling the canons “vacuous and inconsistent,” and mere “fig leafs for decisions reached on other grounds.” If you want to insult a Supreme Court justice, accuse him of grinding an ax and calling it principle. Scalia answers back. (We’ll leave Garner out of this discussion.) His book accuses Posner not merely of “glibly disparaging the canons” but of “odious cynicism to all those” who use them.