Roberts' comparison of a judge to a baseball umpire reminds me of an old story about three different versions of judicial reasoning, built on the same analogy.
First umpire: "Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as they are."
Second umpire: "Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as I see 'em."
Third umpire: "Some are balls and some are strikes, but they ain't nothin' 'til I call 'em."
It was in the 1980s that I first heard that story about the three sorts of umpires and its relation to legal reasoning.
Senator Cornyn said that he read my story on the blogs and asked Roberts "which of those three types of umpires represents your preferred mode of judicial reasoning."
Well, I think I agree with your point about the danger of analogies in some situations. It's not the last, because they are balls and strikes regardless, and if I call them one and they're the other, that doesn't change what they are, it just means that I got it wrong. I guess I liked the one in the middle, because I do think there are right answers. I know that it's fashionable in some places to suggest that there are no right answers and that the judges are motivated by a constellation of different considerations and, because of that, it should affect how we approach certain other issues. That's not the view of the law that I subscribe to.
I think when you folks legislate, you do have something in mind in particular and you it into words and you expect judges not to put in their own preferences, not to substitute their judgment for you, but to implement your view of what you are accomplishing in that statute. I think, when the framers framed the Constitution, it was the same thing. And the judges were not to put in their own personal views about what the Constitution should say, but they're just supposed to interpret it and apply the meaning that is in the Constitution. And I think there is meaning there and I think there is meaning in your legislation. And the job of a good judge is to do as good a job as possible to get the right answer.
Again, I know there are those theorists who think that's futile, or because it's hard in particular cases, we should just throw up our hands and not try. In any case — and I don't subscribe to that — I believe that there are right answers and judges, if they work hard enough, are likely to come up with them.
One of the most famous ethics articles of the 1970s was built on the idea of a judge as an umpire: Marvin E. Frankel, The Search for Truth: An Umpireal View, 123 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1031 (1975).
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