Judge Richard Posner owes his corner office on the 27th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building to President Jimmy Carter.
Before Posner took his post in 1981 on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, Carter had ordered all government buildings to dial down their thermostats to around 65 degrees in response to the energy crisis. Posner's office was traditionally reserved for the chief judge, who, at the time, was Thomas Fairchild. But the north and east exposures made it too cold for Fairchild's comfort.
"He was an old guy," Posner, 72, said of Fairchild, then 68. "He couldn't stand it, so this office was empty when I showed up. Shortly after, (President Ronald) Reagan rescinded the Carter austerity temperature cuts, but by then it was too late. I got the best office."
Thirty years later, the L-shaped office, with its expansive view of the Art Institute of Chicago and Lake Michigan, plush gray carpeting, ornate wooden desk and informal seating area with a green leather sofa and chairs, is still Posner's, though he does most of his work at home in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood.
"I don't have a big need to be in the office," Posner said. "I have to come in several times a week to pick up stuff, and, of course, if I'm sitting I have to be here."
Everything Posner needs for work — briefings and research — is online, and he corresponds with his law clerks via email. Posner said when he gets a new crop of clerks each year, he makes a point of creating a comfortable work environment because he wants them to challenge his opinion or point out his mistakes.
"I'm one of the very few judges to have my law clerks call me by my first name, because I don't want them to think of me as anything special," Posner said. "I don't want to live in a cocoon where I'm surrounded by flatterers."
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