Celebrating Judge Easterbrook's First 25 Years on the Bench

January 28, 2010

In 25 years, Judge Frank Easterbrook has written opinions from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals bench with far-reaching influence, all the while continuing to mold young minds through teaching at the Law School and producing scholarship with characteristic incisive legal analysis.

It was only fitting, then, that the Law School and the University of Chicago Law Review should hold a celebration of Easterbrook's first quarter century on the bench.

In events titled "'The Interrogation Is Unceasing': A Quarter Century of Judge Frank Easterbrook on the Seventh Circuit," ten Law School professors in three panel discussions dissected Easterbrook's most significant opinions and the effect they have had on the legal world at large. Easterbrook attended each of the panels, which were held Jan. 11-13, and provided feedback to the panelists' observations.

Easterbrook's history is deeply intertwined with the Law School. He graduated from Chicago Law and he returned in 1978 to teach after serving in the Solicitor General's Office. Easterbrook was a full-time faculty member until his 1985 appointment to the U.S. Seventh Circuit of Appeals. Since becoming a judge, Easterbrook has served as a Senior Lecturer. This quarter, he is teaching "Evolution of Legal Doctrines," a course examining the maturation and replacement of doctrines.

Easterbrook, now the Seventh Circuit's chief judge, stands out from many federal judges for remaining rigorously dedicated to legal scholarship despite carrying a heavy caseload. But his ability to juggle responsibilities while carrying on rigorous scholarship is well known. After his appointment to chief judge, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a former Law School faculty colleague of Easterbrook, made reference to this quality in a congratulatory note to a law firm publication.

"My pleasure at his elevation might be mingled with regret if I thought there were the slightest chance that his new administrative responsibilities would cause him to cut back on his case production or abridge his scholarship," Scalia noted. "Knowing Frank, I am not worried."

Audiences at the panel discussions were primarily Law School students, some of whom may have had Easterbrook in class, but many others who have seen Easterbrook's name in case books. To open the celebration, Dean Michael Schill explained Easterbrook's impact.

"Frank Easterbrook is someone of immense importance to our school," Schill said. "He is described variously as a force of nature in faculty roundtables and workshops, a brilliant classroom teacher, rigorous demanding, a scholar... of great importance in law and economics, antitrust law, securities as well as judicial interpretation, and someone who has continued to be a scholar while on the bench."

The first day's discussion was called "Easterbrook on Contracts and Copyright," a panel made of Professors Omri Ben-Shahar, Randy Picker, and Eric Posner. Professors Aziz Huq, Jonathan Masur, Geoffrey Stone tackled "Easterbrook on the Constitution" on the second day. Wrapping up the week was a panel called "Easterbrook on Statutes" by Professors Douglas Baird, Saul Levmore, Martha Nussbaum and David Strauss.

At the conclusion of each panel, students were given the intimidating opportunity to ask questions of the panelists or Easterbrook. A student at the final panel asked how Easterbrook came to be so lauded by people of politics and ideologies across the spectrum. In turn, the panelists praised Easterbrook's careful interpretation of complex issues and driving desire to get cases right.

"After 25 years," Levmore explained, "this man's error rate is close to zero."

Visit here to listen to the Easterbrook panel discussions and other talks that have been recorded at the Law School.