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Legal Realism

Power And Economics In Society, The Persuasion And Characteristics Of Individual Judges, Society's Welfare

The school of legal philosophy that challenges the orthodox view of U.S. JURISPRUDENCE under which law is characterized as an autonomous system of rules and principles that courts can logically apply in an objective fashion to reach a determinate and apolitical judicial decision.

Legal realists maintain that common-law adjudication is an inherently subjective system that produces inconsistent and sometimes incoherent results that are largely based on the political, social, and moral predilections of state and federal judges.

The U.S. legal realism movement began in 1881 when OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES JR. published The Common Law, an attack on the orthodox view of law. "The life of the law has not been logic," Holmes wrote, "it has been experience." Legal realism flourished during the 1920s and 1930s when ROSCOE POUND, a professor from Harvard Law School, and KARL LLEWELLYN, a professor from Yale Law School, published a series of articles debating the nuances of the movement. Although the movement declined after WORLD WAR II, it continues to influence how judges, lawyers, and laypersons think about the law.

Legal realism is not a unified collection of thought. Many realists, like Pound and Llewellyn, were sharply critical of each other and presented irreconcilable theories. Yet, five strands of thought predominate in the movement. The strands focus on power and economics in society, the persuasion and characteristics of individual judges, society's welfare, a practical approach to a durable result, and a synthesis of legal philosophies.

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