Judge Richard Posner retires from the 7th Circuit after 36 years

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Judge Richard Posner

Judge Richard Posner of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is retiring effective Saturday, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and Chicago Sun-Times reported late Friday.

Posner, 78, is one of the most widely cited appellate judges in the United States, the Law Bulletin said, and “a teacher and prolific writer on and off the bench.” In a statement cited by the Law Bulletin, he said he looks forward to continuing those tasks, “with a particular focus on social justice reform.”

“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.

Posner’s retirement at age 78 comes a few weeks after he wrote in Slate magazine that he believes in “mandatory retirement for all judges at a fixed age, probably 80.” He argued that even those judges whose performance doesn’t suffer with age can easily be replaced from the 1.3 million lawyers in the United States.

Posner’s pointed opinions have brought him notoriety, at least within the legal community. He was appointed in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and considered conservative at the time. Some of his opinions reflect that; he’s written an opinion opposing gun control; an opinion in favor of a law that barred citizens’ rights to record police carrying out their duties in public; and an opinion limiting class certification in class-action lawsuits.

But Posner hasn’t always hewn conventional Republican positions, especially in recent years. He has struck down restrictions on abortion; criticized the criminalization of drug possession; and ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

Posner could also be biting to litigants he thought were dishonest or unprepared. In 2011, an opinion of his criticized attorneys for ignoring or downplaying applicable precedent; the opinion included a picture of an ostrich with its head buried in the sand, followed by a man in a suit in the same position. “The ostrich is a noble animal, but not a proper model for an appellate advocate,” he wrote.

And he was not afraid to criticize institutions within the law. He has called the U.S. Supreme Court “not a real court,” but “a political court” that he had no interest in joining; criticized some of the individual justices; and described the Bluebook as “560 pages of rubbish.” Sitting by designation in a trial court this year, he put his belief in clearer legal language into practice by altering jury instructions; that decision was overturned last week by a panel of the 7th Circuit.

The 7th Circuit’s Chief Judge, Diane Wood, told the Daily Law Bulletin that Posner was one of the most distinguished people ever to occupy a federal judgeship.

“For more than 50 years, Judge Posner has been one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States—indeed, in the world,” Wood said in a statement. “He has produced an unparalleled body of scholarship—books, articles, and public commentary—covering virtually every legal topic that can be imagined.”

Posner holds degrees from Yale University and Harvard Law School, and clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. His later career connected him to a future Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, when he was an assistant to Marshall in the Solicitor General’s office. Prior to joining the 7th Circuit, he taught at Stanford Law School and the University of Chicago Law School, where he is still a senior lecturer in law.

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