by David Pannick
ISBN 0192159569 (0-19-215956-9)
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Hardcover, Oxford University Press, 1988
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Book summary: Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once observed that the ideal judge must possess three qualities--all of which are disinterestedness. But as David Pannick points out in this irreverent, informative, and highly entertaining volume, not all judges live up to Justice Frankfurter's standard. One American judge, when asked by a lawyer of Japanese descent for more time to prepare a case, shot back, "How much time did you give us at Pearl Harbor?" Others go to the opposite extreme, uninterestedness, and fall asleep during the trial, or knit, or read the paper. One English judge fell asleep so often that barristers would drop huge law books to the floor to wake him up again.
Full of such illustrative examples and anecdotes, Judges offers a revealing portrait of the judicial systems of America and England. It is a vastly amusing book, but it has a serious purpose--to make us think more critically about officials whom we elect for life, who have the power to strike down laws, and whose mistakes, even if later reversed, can have a devastating impact on the people involved. How are judges selected? Is it wise to select supposedly impartial judges from the ranks of lawyers, who spend their careers in highly partisan and heated argument for one side of an issue? Should a judge who has spent his entire career in corporate law be allowed to hear cases in criminal court, as sometimes happens? (One English judge, appointed to the bench after a successful career in libel practice, claimed it was "fun trying Chancery matters of which I had no experience at all"--but how the litigants felt is another matter.) How are judges disciplined when they misbehave? And what changes are needed in this important but hitherto neglected area of government?
Judges have a weighty responsibility; they repeatedly do what most of us seek to avoid: make decisions. These decisions can have serious consequences: a man may go to prison, a women may lose her house or the custody of her children, or an entire segment of the population may lose their civil rights. Pannick's light touch does not deflect from this book's serious aim--to remind people that it is vital to subject judges to the same critical standards to which the other branches of government are held.