Sunstein on His Longtime Colleague, Richard Posner, as He Retires from the Judiciary

Richard Posner, Leader of a Legal Revolution

Judge Richard Posner, probably the world’s most influential legal thinker over the last half-century, retired from the federal bench on Saturday. If a Nobel Prize were to be given in law, he would be the first to receive it, solely on the basis of his academic contributions.

Apart from that, he wrote more than 3,300 opinions as a federal judge. In countless areas, involving questions that grab headlines (like same-sex marriage) or highly technical matters, his analysis has proved enduring and defining.

Whole books have been written about Judge Posner, and we’ll see a lot more of them. In my view, his greatest contribution has been to spearhead a genuine revolution in both theory and practice: the economic analysis of law.

Of course he had important predecessors (including Jeremy Bentham), and he was hardly alone (Judge Guido Calabresi of Yale and Ronald Coase of the University of Chicago also played fundamental roles). But in the modern era, no one comes close to Posner in terms of the sheer width and depth of his influence on contemporary law.

Posner’s approach has a deceptively simple starting point: We should focus insistently on the real-world consequences of legal rules.

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