Legal Realism, Common Courtesy, and Hypocrisy

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3 Scopus citations


In the USA, courts are publicly defined by their distance from politics. Politics is said to be a matter of interest, competition, and compromise. Law, by contrast, is said to be a matter of principle and impartial reason. This distinction between courts and politics, though common, is also commonly doubted – and this raises difficult questions. How can the courts at once be in politics yet not be of politics? If the judiciary is mired in politics, how can one be sure that all the talk of law is not just mummery designed to disguise the pursuit of partisan interests? In one sense, an ambivalent public understanding of the courts and suspicions of judicial hypocrisy pose a threat to judicial and democratic legitimacy. Yet, in another sense, public ambivalence and suspected hypocrisy may actually open up space for the exercise of legal power. I illustrate and critique the enabling capacities of ambivalence and hypocrisy by drawing an analogy to common courtesy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-102
Number of pages28
JournalLaw, Culture and the Humanities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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