Case Western Reserve Law Review
A current focus of legal debate is the proper role of the courts in the interpretation of statutes and the Constitution. Are judges to look solely to the naked language of an enactment, then logically deduce its application in simple syllogistic fashion, as legal formalists had purported to do? Or may the inquiry into meaning be informed by perhaps unbridled and unaccountable judicial notions of public policy, using legal realism to best promote the general welfare? Judge Posner considers the concepts of formalism and realism to be meaningful and useful in common law reasoning but in interpretation to be useless and, worse, forbidden. He analogizes unclear "orders" from a legislature to garbled battlefield communications, and argues that the duty of the recipient of those orders (the judge) is to advance as best he can the enterprise set on foot by the superiors. Case studies elaborate this thesis. Judicial decisions interpreting fixed texts, Judge Posner concludes, can be neither logically correct or incorrect, philosophically sound or unsound, until the ultimate jurist, time, has adjudged their results.
Richard A. Posner, "Legal Formalism, Legal Realism, and the Interpretation of Statutes and the Constitution," 37 Case Western Reserve Law Review 179 (1986).