CHICAGO (CN) – Judge Richard Posner, a leading appellate judge and preeminent legal scholar, retired last weekend after serving 36 years on the Seventh Circuit bench.
Posner, 78, is known for his sharp tongue and idiosyncratic approach to writing legal opinions. At oral arguments, Posner would often immediately interrupt appellate lawyers’ prepared remarks with a “No, no, no,” and make them scramble to answer his own line of questioning.
“I am proud to have promoted a pragmatic approach to judging during my time on the court, and to have had the opportunity to apply my view that judicial opinions should be easy to understand and that judges should focus on the right and wrong in every case,” Posner said in a statement Friday.
The judge’s retirement, effective last Saturday, opens a fourth vacancy on the Seventh Circuit, which is still dominated by Ronald Reagan appointees. Candidates selected by the Trump administration will likely have a major impact on the Chicago-based appeals court’s future.
Posner was appointed by President Reagan in 1981, but many of his opinions are considered libertarian rather than strictly conservative.
He also took a strong stance against burdening a woman’s right to seek an abortion, criticized a Seventh Circuit panel opinion that upheld Wisconsin’s voter ID law, and struck down an Illinois law criminalizing the videotaping of police officers.
However, Posner has also defended the use of torture in the name of national security, and supported the National Security Agency’s program of warrantless surveillance of American citizens.
“If torture is the only means of obtaining the information necessary to prevent the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Times Square, torture should be used – and will be used — to obtain the information… No one who doubts that this is the case should be in a position of responsibility,” Posner wrote in a 2002 article published in the New Republic.
Judge Posner has always been a critic of the U.S. Supreme Court, believing it to be overly political. Last year, he told a crowd at a Chicago bookstore that the Supreme Court has “reached a real nadir.”
“Probably only a couple of the justices, [Stephen] Breyer and [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, are qualified. They’re OK, they’re not great,” Posner continued.
The judge was – and will likely continue to be – a prolific writer, having authored more than 3,300 opinions and four dozen books. Posner says he intends to continue teaching at the University of Chicago Law School and to publish “with a particular focus on social justice reform.”
Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood issued a statement calling Posner “one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States – indeed, in the world.”
The absence of Posner’s dominating presence on the court will no doubt be felt at the Seventh Circuit’s next en banc hearing on the overturned homicide conviction of “Making a Murderer” subject Brendan Dassey, scheduled for Sept. 26.