Keeping It Real

Newsweek
November 14, 2005

For many intellectuals, the ideal of Blind Justice, impartially weighing her scales, went out the window about 80 years ago. At Yale Law School in the 1920s and '30s, a highly influential group of scholars called the Legal Realists argued that the law was not a set of fixed, unchanging rules--"not a brooding omnipresence in the sky," as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once put it. The Legal Realists contended that, inevitably, judges were influenced by their political views and personal values,

For many intellectuals, the ideal of Blind Justice, impartially weighing her scales, went out the window about 80 years ago. At Yale Law School in the 1920s and '30s, a highly influential group of scholars called the Legal Realists argued that the law was not a set of fixed, unchanging rules--"not a brooding omnipresence in the sky," as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once put it. The Legal Realists contended that, inevitably, judges were influenced by their political views and personal values, whether they admitted it or not. There was a lot of truth to what the Legal Realists were saying. Today it is almost ajournalistic cliche that judges are either liberal or conservative, that the law is nothing but politics in disguise and that judges couldn't be neutral if they tried.

Nonetheless, they are supposed to try. And, in fact, most judges do try to set aside or at least check their personal political leanings when ruling on a case. Judging from his life story and judicial record, few try harder than Sam Alito.

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