Chief Justice Roberts and Current Legal Scholarship

CQ‘s Kenneth Jost assesses “Chief Justice Roberts’ Ill-Informed Attack on Legal Scholarship” on his blog. As had been widely reported and discussed, Chief Justice Roberts was dismissive of the value of much legal scholarship at the Fourth Circuit judicial conference in June.

“Pick up a copy of any law review that you see,” Roberts said, “and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar.”

As I told Jost for his post, I think there is something to Roberts’ critique. Much legal scholarship has little relevance to the bar or the bench. At the same time, it would be a mistake to believe that practical utility is the only measure of legal scholarship. Empirical analyses of judicial behavior may not help judges resolve cases, but they can certainly aide in our understanding of the legal system. Much scholarship also has value for its own sake. [UPDATE: Even if some scholarship has intrinsic value, that does not necessarily mean it should be financed by law student tuition.]

Somewhat ironically, as Jost notes, this past term featured several opinions that relied heavily upon legal scholarship for their analysis, including Wal-Mart v. Dukes which extensively cited the work of the late Richard Nagareda.

Somewhat coincidentally, two legal scholars have a draft empirical study of the Supreme Court’s use of legal scholarship over the past 61 years. It finds that the Supreme Court actually cites legal scholarship quite frequently — in approximately one third of its cases. As Jost notes, eight of the current Justices cited legal scholarship at least once in their opinions this past term. The one exception: Chief Justice Roberts.

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