STFU? Does Judicial Blogging Harm The Legal System?

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf and author of the blog, Hercules and the Umpire, recently made national headlines for his post titled, Remembering Alexander Bickel’s passive virtues and the Hobby Lobby cases.  In the post, Judge Kopf addressed the political side of the United States Supreme Court Hobby Lobby opinion and made the following provocative suggestion:

As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu.

Richard_G._Kopf_District_JudgeFor those not familiar with the vernacular, stfu means “shut the f_ up.”

In a post that shortly followed, titled Please stopJudge Kopf reprinted an email from a local lawyer urging him to stop blogging because “blogging by judges harms our [legal] system significantly.”  The numerous comments that follow the post raise the question: Does blogging by judges harm the legal system?

LPR has written extensively about the need for transparency in the law.  And we have blogged twice about Judge Kopf’s refreshing transparency and self-awareness.  For the handful of commentators who agreed that the judge should hang up his blog, there were dozens of the judge’s supporters:

  • We [young lawyers] don’t necessarily agree with everything you say, and sometimes I think I am the only one of my colleagues to get your humor, but we all believe that less transparency, less communication, less humanity can never lead to a good thing. The only thing that secrecy and rote authoritarianism engenders is resentment and closeted disrespect. (Anonymous (J. Law))
  • I was in seminary before attending law school, and the processes were remarkably the same: the inculcation of a special way of thinking, a feeling of intellectual superiority, and the desire to keep it all secret lest the plebians see that we are, indeed, merely human. In the church, this has had terrible consequences now coming to light. In the judiciary, the consequences have been comparably devastating. (Randall E. Winn)
  • In my opinion, by blogging your mind and heart on issues removes a big layer of mistrust that the public may hold for the judicial system. Judges are not meant to be infalable. If more judges could only learn from you that it is ok to sound human…. (Heath)
  • I think in modern society, it’s a good thing to be aware that courts are getting it wrong, because you can fix a system that you know is broke, but it’s impossible to fix one where everyone keeps trying to create an illusion of perfection from within. (Kenneth R. Burger)
  • I understand both sides of this argument, and objectors are arguing we should continue with the secrecy for the appearance of impartiality. In some respects it reminds me of the way people treated doctors decades ago. (traderprofit)
  • This critic appears to suffer from the same misperception that characterizes so many that are effectively a part of “the system.” They presume that the public doesn’t know any better. (nobody)
  • Your frank observations are needed and perhaps other Judges will gather the courage to follow in your footsteps. (Jay Kelligesqw)

But commentator E. Hines summed up the best:

As you are aware, I’m not a lawyer or a judge, but I am one of those members of the public about whose sensibilities your correspondent agonizes at such length.

His email is insulting. It insults my intelligence, and it insults the intelligence of my fellow Americans, whether or not they’re legal professionals . . . How does the legal profession expect us to trust a judge who hides behind the sanctity of a secret guild with its unique jargon, entering before us only to issue pronouncements?

So to the question whether blogging by judges harms the legal system, LPR poses that it does not.  And, as the multitude of positive comments indicate, it may be a way to reboot the system in the eyes of the public.

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