Sunday, July 08, 2012


My old pal Richard Posner has been making waves with a recent interview on National Public Radio where he says he's become less conservative as the Republican Party has become goofy.  He also notes the attacks on John Roberts will naturally drive the Chief Justice toward the left.

...what would you do if you were Roberts? All of a sudden you find out that the people that you thought were your friends have turned against you, they despise you, they mistreat you, they leak to the press, what do you do? Do you become more conservative? Or do you say, ‘What am I doing with this crowd of lunatics?’"

Some have been making hay of this, as if even a stalwart conservative like Judge Richard Posner is turning against the Republicans. Of course, anyone who knows him wouldn't be surprised.  He's never been a conventional conservative, or a conventional anything.  It's just our national politics tends to put people in one camp or the other, and when Reagan appoints you to the courts that means you must be on the right.

For years now Posner's claimed to be a pragmatist--a judge has to see what works. (It's also a given a judge has to follow the law, but, especially at appellate levels, there are always arguments for the different sides). He certainly tends to believe in free markets, but when it comes to the traditionalism associated with conservatives he's pretty far off the reservation.  He's not particularly religious, doesn't hold much stock in "family values" (as far as I can tell), is soft on pornography and homosexuality, is not opposed to abortion or gun control, is opposed to the war on drugs and so on.

He also goes along with the scientific establishment on global warming (and probably can't understand why this is a political issue).  He also questions the rule of law and originalist interpretations of the Constitution.   In general, he's willing to question his premises, and believes we may have gone far enough with tax-cutting and deregulation.

He's been called an eclectic libertarian which perhaps isn't that far off.  He's also got a cold-blooded approach to many issues which some find off-putting (though he's explicitly recognized we don't live on logic alone).  He's also been, throughout his career, a (mild-mannered) provocateur.  So while his views have often been galling to the left, they've hardly been a comfort to the right.

So when I heard about the NPR story, all I could think was this is classic Posner.


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