Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tamanaha's "Beyond the Formalist-Realist Divide"

Brian Z. Tamanaha, Washington University School of Law, has just published Beyond the Formalist-Realist Divide: The Role of Politics in Judging, with the Princeton University Press. We’ve noted several essays advancing the arguments developed in the book here and here and here. The Press's description is as follows:
According to conventional wisdom in American legal culture, the 1870s to 1920s was the age of legal formalism, when judges believed that the law was autonomous and logically ordered, and that they mechanically deduced right answers in cases. In the 1920s and 1930s, the story continues, the legal realists discredited this view by demonstrating that the law is marked by gaps and contradictions, arguing that judges construct legal justifications to support desired outcomes. This often-repeated historical account is virtually taken for granted today, and continues to shape understandings about judging. In this groundbreaking book, esteemed legal theorist Brian Tamanaha thoroughly debunks the formalist-realist divide.

Drawing from extensive research into the writings of judges and scholars, Tamanaha shows how, over the past century and a half, jurists have regularly expressed a balanced view of judging that acknowledges the limitations of law and of judges, yet recognizes that judges can and do render rule-bound decisions. He reveals how the story about the formalist age was an invention of politically motivated critics of the courts, and how it has led to significant misunderstandings about legal realism.

Beyond the Formalist-Realist Divide traces how this false tale has distorted studies of judging by political scientists and debates among legal theorists. Recovering a balanced realism about judging, this book fundamentally rewrites legal history and offers a fresh perspective for theorists, judges, and practitioners of law.
Blurbs Larry Solum:
Beyond the Formalist-Realist Divide will forever change our understanding of American legal realism and its mythical opponent, legal formalism. Generations of judges, lawyers, and scholars have come to see a false picture that pits radically skeptical realists against naïve or deceptive formalists. Tamanaha's magnificent book will open your eyes and change the way you think about the law. Every lawyer and judge should read this book. Every legal scholar must!
And Sanford V. Levinson writes:
Tamanaha makes a very important argument with real verve, and I have no doubt that it will generate very wide interest, controversy, and, I am confident, changes in the way American legal history is presented. He is out to destroy what has become the standard narrative of our legal past. The ball is now in the court of those who wish to preserve that narrative.

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