Legal Biography

Quick Info
(3150.03)  Seminar
Professor P. McMahon
3 credit(s)  3 hour(s);
Discussion and student presentations on designated topics during class. The seminar will be taught in three-hour classes in a nine-week period for a total of twenty-seven hours beginning the week of January 15, 2024.
Upper Year Research & Writing Requirement

Judges play a critical role in the common law world. Since the emergence of legal realism, it has been accepted that judicial decision-making is not a value-free exercise from which a judge’s personal predilections can be eliminated. Judicial biography is one way to study how judges’ background, personal makeup and worldview influence their decision-making. This course exposes students to the variety of approaches to judicial life-writing that exist in the common law world, to the techniques of life-writing, and to the questions that lie at the intersection of legal theory and biography. One such question relates to the impact on the law of non-traditional appointees to the bench in the last few decades: women, members of racial and religious minorities, and lawyers with activist backgrounds of various kinds. But questions arise about more “traditional” appointees too, such as white males of Christian background. They are not uniform in their life experiences or their approaches to judicial decision-making, and sometimes turn out to behave very differently on the bench than might have been predicted. Exploring these patterns and their impact on the law will be a big part of what we do in this course. However, judges are not the only influential actors in the adversarial system. Lawyers, and the cases they bring (including how they are argued), are a key, often overlooked aspect of the judicial decision-making process. This course also considers the influence of the lived experiences of lawyers more generally.