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Thursday, May 28, 2009

What, and Who, is a "Good" Justice?

In a previous post I asked whether brilliance is necessary for a justice, and whether more intelligence = better judging.  I intimated that my inclination was that beyond a certain (very high) level of intelligence, I saw no evidence that yet more intelligence led to better judging.  Larry Solum and others have taken me to task in a variety of ways (check out the comments and Larry's post at his blog for the roasting).

In order to begin to respond to the questions Larry and others raise, let's begin with this: what makes for a good Supreme Court justice?  What are the criteria, and who are the examples?

Posted by Hillel Levin on May 28, 2009 at 06:07 PM | Permalink


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It seems to me that you cannot answer Larry's question re: whether more brilliance (or intelligence) is valuable until you answer the antecedent question you've posted here: what, exactly, does it mean to be a "brilliant" justice? If that answer includes, as Larry posited, a well-rounded, multi-faceted intelligence, than it seems likely that "more" of the whole package will be useful.

The problem, of course, is that few people come with equal quantities of each element in that well-rounded package. So I think the question you’re really trying to ask is this: is there a point at which an incremental increase in one particular type of intelligence (like analytical intelligence) is not worth giving up an incremental increase in a different form of intelligence (like practical wisdom)? In other words, what trade offs are worth it: is a slight increase in the knowledge of prior precedent worth trading for a bit more writing skill? Is a bit more analytical power worth a giving up some interpersonal skills?

A final thought: one thing that has troubled me about the "brilliance" conversation (over all, not in these posts) is the implication that there is a "best" person for a job like this. But of course there isn't; there is a pool of qualified people, each of whom brings a slightly differently balanced package of the necessary skills. How a given president (or senator) balances the importance of those different skills will, and should, vary with the circumstances presented.

Posted by: Lori Ringhand | May 29, 2009 7:48:27 AM

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