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Richard Posner

Richard Posner
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Assumed office
December 1, 1981
Appointed by Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Philip Tone
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
In office
August 1, 1993 – August 1, 2000
Preceded by William Bauer
Succeeded by Joel Flaum
Personal details
Born Richard Allen Posner
(1939-01-11) January 11, 1939
New York City, New York, U.S.
Spouse(s) Charlene Posner
Alma mater Yale University
Harvard University

Richard Allen Posner (; born January 11, 1939) is an American jurist, jewish legal theorist and economist. He is currently a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. He is a leading figure in the field of law and economics, and was identified by The Journal of Legal Studies as the most cited legal scholar of the 20th century.[1]

Posner is the author of nearly 40 books on jurisprudence, economics, and several other topics, including Economic Analysis of Law, The Economics of Justice, The Problems of Jurisprudence, Sex and Reason, Law, Pragmatism and Democracy, and The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy. Posner has generally been identified as being politically conservative; however, in recent years he has distanced himself from the positions of the Republican party.[2]

Early life and education

Born in New York City, Posner graduated from Yale College (A.B., 1959, summa cum laude), majoring in English, and from Harvard Law School (LL.B., 1962, magna cum laude), where he was valedictorian of his class[3] and president of the Harvard Law Review. After clerking for Justice William J. Brennan of the United States Supreme Court during the 1962–63 term, he served as Attorney-Advisor to Federal Trade Commissioner Philip Elman; he would later argue that the Federal Trade Commission ought to be abolished.[3] He went on to work in the Office of the Solicitor General in the U.S. Department of Justice, under Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall.[3]

Legal career

In 1968, Posner accepted a position teaching at Stanford Law School.[3] In 1969, Posner moved to the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School, where he remains a Senior Lecturer and where his son Eric Posner is a Professor. He was a founding editor of The Journal of Legal Studies in 1972.

On October 27, 1981, Posner was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated by Philip Willis Tone.[4] Posner was confirmed by the United States Senate on November 24, 1981, and received his commission on December 1, 1981. He served as Chief Judge of that court from 1993 to 2000 but remained a part-time professor at the University of Chicago.[4]

Posner is a pragmatist in philosophy and an economist in legal methodology. He has written many articles and books on a wide range of topics including law and economics, law and literature, the federal judiciary, moral theory, intellectual property, antitrust law, public intellectuals, and legal history. He is also well known for writing on a wide variety of current events including the 2000 presidential election recount controversy, Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky[4] and his resulting impeachment procedure, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

His analysis of the Lewinsky scandal cut across most party and ideological divisions. Posner's greatest influence is through his writings on law and economics; The New York Times called him "one of the most important antitrust scholars of the past half-century." In December 2004, Posner started a joint blog with Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, titled simply "The Becker-Posner Blog".[5] Both men contributed to the blog until shortly before Becker's death in May 2014, after which Posner announced that the blog was being discontinued.[6] He also has a blog at The Atlantic, where he discusses the financial crisis.[7]

Posner was mentioned in 2005 as a potential nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor because of his prominence as a scholar and an appellate judge. Robert S. Boynton has written in The Washington Post that he believes Posner will never sit on the Supreme Court because despite his "obvious brilliance," he would be criticized for his occasionally "outrageous conclusions," such as his contention "that the rule of law is an accidental and dispensable element of legal ideology," his argument that buying and selling children on the free market would lead to better outcomes than the present situation, government-regulated adoption, and his support for the legalization of marijuana and LSD.[8]

Judge Posner was the focus of a series of posts (many Q&A interviews with the Judge) done by University of Washington Law Professor Ronald KL. Collins. The posts appeared in November and December of 2014 on the Concurring Opinions blog.

Legal positions

Judge Posner making a dinner speech at the Federal Trade Commission.

In Posner's youth and in the 1960s as law clerk to William J. Brennan he was generally counted as a Stanford.[3] Posner summarized his views on law and economics in his 1973 book The Economic Analysis of Law.[3]

Today, although generally viewed as to the right in academia, Posner's pragmatism, his qualified moral relativism and moral skepticism,[9] and his affection for the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche set him apart from most American conservatives. As a judge, with the exception of his rulings with respect to the sentencing guidelines and the recording of police actions, Posner's judicial votes have always placed him on the moderate-to-liberal wing of the Republican Party, where he has become more isolated over time.[10] In July 2012, Posner stated, "I've become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy."[11] Among Posner's judicial influences are the American jurists Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Learned Hand.


Posner has written several opinions sympathetic to abortion rights, including a decision that held that "partial-birth abortion" was constitutionally protected in some circumstances.[12]

Animal rights

Posner engaged in a debate on the ethics of using animals in research with the philosopher Peter Singer in 2001 at Slate magazine. He argues that animal rights conflict with the moral relevance of humanity and that empathy for pain and suffering of animals does not supersede advancing society.[13] He further argues that he trusts his moral intuition until it is shown to be wrong and that his moral intuition says that "it is wrong to give as much weight to a dog's pain as to an infant's pain." He leaves open the possibility that facts on animal and human cognition can and may change his intuition in the future; he further states that people whose opinions were changed by consideration of the ethics presented in Singer's book Animal Liberation failed to see the "radicalism of the ethical vision that powers [their] view on animals, an ethical vision that finds greater value in a healthy pig than in a profoundly retarded child, that commands inflicting a lesser pain on a human being to avert a greater pain to a dog, and that, provided only that a chimpanzee has 1 percent of the mental ability of a normal human being, would require the sacrifice of the human being to save 101 chimpanzees."[13]


Along with [3]


Posner is "one of the founding fathers of Bluebook abolitionism, having advocated it for almost twenty-five years, ever since his 1986 University of Chicago Law Review article[14] on the subject."[15] In a 2011 Yale Law Journal article, he wrote:

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation exemplifies hypertrophy in the anthropological sense. It is a monstrous growth, remote from the functional need for legal citation forms, that serves obscure needs of the legal culture and its student subculture.[16]


Posner opposes the US "War on Drugs" and called it "quixotic". In a 2003 CNBC interview he discussed the difficulty of enforcing criminal marijuana laws, and asserted that it is hard to justify the criminalization of marijuana when compared to other substances. In a talk at Elmhurst College in 2012, Posner said that "I don't think that we should have a fraction of the drug laws that we have. I think it's really absurd to be criminalizing possession or use or distribution of marijuana."[17]


Posner supported the creation of a law barring hyperlinks or paraphrasing of copyrighted material as a means to prevent what he views as free riding on newspaper journalism.[18][19][20] His co-blogger Gary Becker simultaneously posted a contrasting opinion that while the Internet might hurt newspapers, it will not harm the vitality of the press, but rather embolden it.[21]

Patent and copyright law

Posner has expressed concerns, on the blog he contributes to with Gary Becker, that both patent and copyright protection, though particularly the former, may be excessive. He argues that the cost of inventing must be compared to the cost of copying in order to determine the optimal patent protection for an inventor. When patent protection is too strongly in favour of the inventor, market efficiency is decreased. He illustrates his argument by comparing the pharmaceutical industry (where the cost on invention is high) with the software industry (where the cost of invention is relatively low).[22]

Police recording

As part of a three-judge panel on the 7th Circuit in Chicago, weighing a challenge to the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which bars the secret recording of conversations without the consent of all the parties to the conversation, Posner was to deliver another memorable quote. At issue was the constitutionality of the Illinois wiretapping law, which makes it illegal to record someone without consent even when filming public acts like arrests in public. Posner interrupted the ACLU after just 14 words, stating, "Yeah, I know. But I’m not interested, really, in what you want to do with these recordings of peoples’ encounters with the police...." Posner continued: “Once all this stuff can be recorded, there’s going to be a lot more of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers.... I'm always suspicious when the civil liberties people start telling the police how to do their business."[23] The 7th Circuit upheld the challenge 2-1, striking down the Eavesdropping Act, but Posner wrote a dissenting opinion.


In a dissent from an earlier ruling by his protégé Frank Easterbrook, Posner wrote that Easterbrook's decision that female guards could watch male prisoners while in the shower or bathroom must stem from a belief that prisoners are "members of a different species, indeed as a type of vermin, devoid of human dignity and entitled to no respect.... I do not myself consider the 1.5 million inmates of American prisons and jails in that light."[3]


Posner thinks that privacy as a social good is overrated: "I'm exaggerating a little, but I think privacy is primarily wanted by people because they want to conceal information to fool others."[24] According to one author, Posner claims that "breaking down privacy domains and promoting transparency of the population is economically and morally beneficial. Paradoxically though, for Posner, wealth maximisation means that businesses should be afforded greater levels of privacy because placing businesses under the public spotlight harms economic growth."[25]

Same-sex marriage

Posner authored the opinion of a three judge panel on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule that Indiana and Wisconsin's bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, affirming a lower court ruling.[26] During oral arguments, Wisconsin's Attorney General cited tradition as a reason for maintaining the ban, prompting Posner to note that: "It was tradition to not allow blacks and whites to marry – a tradition that got swept away." Posner said that the same-sex marriage bans were both "a tradition of hate" and "savage discrimination".[27] Posner wrote a blistering opinion for the unanimous panel, holding the laws unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.

National Security

At the Cybercrime 2020: The Future of Online Crime and Investigations conference held at the Georgetown University Law Center on November 20, 2014, Posner, in addition to further reinforcing his views on privacy being over-rated, stated that “If the NSA wants to vacuum all the trillions of bits of information that are crawling through the electronic worldwide networks, I think that’s fine." “Much of what passes for the name of privacy is really just trying to conceal the disreputable parts of your conduct,” Posner added. “Privacy is mainly about trying to improve your social and business opportunities by concealing the sorts of bad activities that would cause other people not to want to deal with you.” Posner also criticized mobile OS companies for enabling end-to-end encryption in their newest software. “I’m shocked at the thought that a company would be permitted to manufacture an electronic product that the government would not be able to search” he said. [28]

Judicial career

Posner is one of the most prolific legal writers, through both the number and topical breadth of his opinions, to say nothing of his scholarly and popular writings.[29] Unlike many other judges, he writes all his own opinions.[3] Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow says that Posner "is an apparently inexhaustible writer on... nearly everything. To call him a polymath would be a gross understatement.... Judge Posner evidently writes the way other men breathe", though the economist describes the judge's grasp of economics as, "in some respects, ... precarious."[30]

Aside from the sheer volume of his output, Posner's opinions enjoy great respect from other judges, based on citations, and within the legal academy, where his opinions are taught in many foundational law courses. An example is his opinion in Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. v. American Cyanamid Co., a staple of first year Torts courses taught in American law schools, where the case is used to address the question of when it is better to use negligence liability or strict liability.[31]

In his decision in the 1997 case State Oil Co. v. Khan, Posner wrote that a ruling 1968 antitrust precedent set by the Supreme Court was "moth-eaten", "wobbly", and "unsound".[3] Nevertheless, he abided by the previous decision with his ruling.[3] The Supreme Court granted certiorari and overturned the 1968 ruling unanimously; Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the opinion and spoke positively of both Posner's criticism and his decision to abide by the ruling until the Court decided to change it.[32]

In 1999, Posner was welcomed as a private mediator among the parties involved in the Microsoft antitrust case.[4]

A study published by Fred Shapiro in the University of Chicago's The Journal of Legal Studies found Posner is the most-cited legal scholar of all time by a considerable margin, as Posner's work has generated 7,981 cites compared to the runner-up Ronald Dworkin's 4,488 cites.[1]

Awards and honors

A 2004 poll by Legal Affairs magazine named Posner as one of the top twenty legal thinkers in the U.S.[33]

In 2008, the [36] The former dean of Yale Law School, Anthony T. Kronman, said that Posner was "one of the most rational human beings" he had ever met.[3]

Personal Life

Posner and his wife have lived in Hyde Park, Chicago, for many years. Posner is a self-described "cat person" and is devoted to his maine coon, Pixie.[37]


The following is a selection of Posner's writings.

Selected books

  • 1973 Economic Analysis of Law, 1st ed.
  • 1981 The Economics of Justice, ISBN 978-0-674-23526-7
  • 1988 Law and Literature: A Misunderstood Relation, ISBN 978-0-674-51468-3
  • 1990 The Problems of Jurisprudence, ISBN 978-0-674-70876-1
  • 1990 Cardozo: A Study in Reputation, ISBN 978-0-226-67556-5
  • 1992 Sex and Reason, ISBN 978-0-674-80280-3
  • 1995 Overcoming Law, ISBN 978-0-674-64926-2, Among the topics is a critique of Robert Bork's constitutional theories, review of books about the legal system in the Third Reich, and a discussion of the legal culture reflected in the works of Tom Wolfe and E.M. Forster.
  • 1995 Aging and Old Age, ISBN 978-0-226-67568-8
  • 1996 The Federal Courts: Challenge and Reform (2d ed.), ISBN 978-0-674-29627-5
  • 1996 Law and Legal Theory in England and America, ISBN 978-0-19-826471-2
  • 1998 Law and Literature (revised and enlarged ed.), ISBN 978-0-674-51471-3
  • 1999 The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory, ISBN 978-0-674-00799-4
  • 2001 Frontiers of Legal Theory, ISBN 978-0-674-01360-5
  • 2001 Antitrust Law, 2nd ed., ISBN 978-0-226-67576-3
  • 2001 Breaking the Deadlock: The 2000 Presidential Election and the Courts, ISBN 978-0-691-09073-3
  • 2002 Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, ISBN 978-0-674-00633-1
  • 2003 Law, Pragmatism and Democracy, ISBN 978-0-674-01081-9
  • 2003 The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law (Harvard Univ. Press) (with William Landes), ISBN 978-0-674-01204-2
  • 2004 Catastrophe: Risk and Response, ISBN 978-0-19-530647-7
  • 2005 Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11, ISBN 978-0-7425-4947-0
  • 2006 Uncertain Shield: The U.S. Intelligence System in the Throes of Reform, ISBN 978-0-7425-5127-5
  • 2006 Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency, ISBN 978-0-19-530427-5
  • 2007 The Little Book of Plagiarism, ISBN 978-0-375-42475-5
  • 2007 Economic Analysis of Law, 7th ed., ISBN 978-0-7355-6354-4
  • 2007 Countering Terrorism: Blurred Focus, Halting Steps, ISBN 978-0-7425-5883-0
  • 2008 How Judges Think, ISBN 978-0-674-02820-3
  • 2009 Law and Literature, 3rd. ed., ISBN 978-0-674-03246-0
  • 2009 A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of '08 and the Descent into Depression, ISBN 978-0-674-03514-0
  • 2010 The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy, ISBN 978-0-674-00574-2
  • 2010 Economic Analysis of Law, 8th ed., ISBN 978-0-7355-9442-5

Selected articles

  • The Federal Trade Commission, 37 U. Chi. L. Rev. 47 (1969)
  • A Theory of Negligence, 1 J. Legal Stud. 29 (1972)
  • The Economics of the Baby Shortage: A Modest Proposal, 7 J. Legal Stud. 323 (with Elisabeth M. Landes) (1978)
  • Statutory Interpretation – In the Classroom and in the Courtroom, 50 U. Chi. L. Rev. 800 (1983)
  • The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory, 111 Harv. L. Rev. 1637 (1998)
  • Pragmatism Versus Purposivism in First Amendment Analysis, 54 Stan. L. Rev. 737 (2002)
  • Transaction Costs and Antitrust Concerns in the Licensing of Intellectual Property, 4 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L. 325 (2005)
  • Foreword: A Political Court (The Supreme Court, 2004 Term), 119 Harv. L. Rev. 31 (2005)

See also


  1. ^ a b Shapiro, Fred R. (2000). "The Most-Cited Legal Scholars". Journal of Legal Studies 29 (1): 409–426.  
  2. ^ Warren, James (July 14, 2012). "Richard Posner Bashes Supreme Court’s Citizens United Ruling". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Parloff, Roger (January 10, 2000). "The Negotiator: No one doubts that Richard Posner is a brilliant judge and . . . .". Fortune Magazine. Retrieved October 17, 2008. 
  4. ^ a b c d Brinkley, Joel (November 20, 1999). "Microsoft Case Gets U.S. Judge As a Mediator". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2008. 
  5. ^ "The Becker-Posner Blog". Gary Becker and Richard Posner. Retrieved October 17, 2008. 
  6. ^ Mui, Sarah (May 16, 2014). "Becker-Posner Blog shutters after Gary Becker’s death". ABA Journal. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "Richard A. Posner - Authors - The Atlantic". Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  8. ^ Boynton, Robert S. Boynton. "Public Intellectuals"'Sounding Off,' a review of Richard Posner's , The Washington Post Book World, January 20, 2002.
  9. ^ Posner, Richard (1998). "The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory".   (clarifying his moral positions)
  10. ^ Keith Poole, Judge Posner and Political Polarization Voteview July 9, 2012
  11. ^ Nina Totenberg, Federal Judge Richard Posner: The GOP Has Made Me Less Conservative NPR July 5, 2012
  12. ^ Rubin, Alissa (1999-02-11) Anti-Abortion Advocates Gain Ground in Late-Term Debate, Los Angeles Times
  13. ^ a b Posner-Singer debate at Slate
  14. ^ Goodbye to the Bluebook, 53 U. Chi L. Rev. 1343 (1986)
  15. ^ Somin, Ilya (2011-01-25) Richard Posner on the Bluebook, Volokh Conspiracy
  16. ^ Blues, 120 Yale L.J. 850 (2011)BluebookThe
  17. ^ Video on YouTube
  18. ^ "The Future of Newspapers". Richard Posner. June 23, 2009. Retrieved April 2, 2012. 
  19. ^ reaction on slashdot
  20. ^ reaction on
  21. ^ "The Social Cost of the Decline of Newspapers?". Gary Becker. June 23, 2009. Retrieved June 17, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Do patent and copyright law restrict competition and creativity excessively?". Richard Posner. September 30, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  23. ^ "Tell Us, Judge Posner, Who Watches the Watchmen?". By Justin Silverman. 
  24. ^ Posner, Richard (2008-04-24). "Judge Richard Posner: Privacy | Richard Posner". Big Think. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  25. ^ McStay, Andrew (November 8, 2013). "Why too much privacy is bad for the economy". Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  26. ^ Bell, Kyle. "Appeals Court Rules Indiana and Wisconsin Gay Marriage Bans Unconstitutional". South Bend Voice. Retrieved 4 September 2014. 
  27. ^ Bell, Kyle. "Appeals Court Judge Calls Indiana’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban ‘Tradition of Hate’". South Bend Voice. Retrieved 4 September 2014. 
  28. ^ Judge: Give NSA unlimited access to digital data 
  29. ^ a b Lattman, Peter (October 6, 2006). "A Paean to the Opinions of the Prolific Judge Posner". The Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Retrieved October 17, 2008. 
  30. ^ Solow, Robert M. (April 16, 2009). "How to Understand the Disaster". N.Y. Review of Books. Retrieved April 30, 2011. 
  31. ^ Rosenberg, David (2007). "The Judicial Posner on Negligence Versus Strict Liability: Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. v. American Cyanamid Co.".  
  32. ^ Savage, David G. (November 5, 1997). "High Court Approves Retail Price Ceilings". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 17, 2008. 
  33. ^ Lattman, Peter (January 17, 2008). "The Inimitable Judge Posner Strikes Again". The Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Retrieved October 17, 2008. 
  34. ^ "Project Posner". Project Posner. Retrieved October 17, 2008. 
  35. ^ "Project Posner". Lawrence Lessig. October 18, 2006. Retrieved October 17, 2008. 
  36. ^ Charney, Noah (November 7, 2013). "How I Write: Richard Posner". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 13, 2013. 

Further reading

  • Steelman, Aaron (2008). "Posner, Richard A. (1939– )". In  

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Philip Tone
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Preceded by
William Bauer
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Succeeded by
Joel Flaum
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