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Fear of Judging
Sentencing Guidelines in the Federal Courts
Kate Stith and José A. Cabranes
University of Chicago Press, 1998
For two centuries, federal judges exercised wide discretion in criminal sentencing. This changed in 1987, when a hopelessly complex bureaucratic apparatus was imposed on the federal courts. Though termed Sentencing "Guidelines," the new sentencing rules are mandatory. Reformers hoped that the Sentencing Guidelines would address inequities in sentencing. The Guidelines have failed to achieve this goal, according to Kate Stith and José Cabranes, and they have sacrificed comprehensibility and common sense.

Fear of Judging is the first full-scale history, analysis, and critique of the new sentencing regime. The authors show that the present system has burdened the courts, dehumanized the sentencing process, and, by repressing judicial discretion, eroded the constitutional balance of powers. Eschewing ideological or politically oriented critiques of the Guidelines and offering alternatives to the current system, Stith and Cabranes defend a vision of justice that requires judges to perform what has traditionally been considered their central task—exercising judgment.
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The Federal Courts
Richard A. Posner
Harvard University Press, 1996

The federal courts are the world’s most powerful judiciary and a vital element of the American political system. In recent decades, these courts have experienced unprecedented growth in caseload and personnel. Many judges and lawyers believe that a “crisis in quantity” is imperiling the ability of the federal judiciary to perform its historic function of administering justice fairly and expeditiously.

In a substantially revised edition of his widely acclaimed 1985 book The Federal Courts: Crisis and Reform, Chief Judge Richard A. Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit provides a comprehensive evaluation of the federal judiciary and a detailed program of judicial reform. Drawing on economic and political theory as well as on legal analysis and his own extensive judicial experience, Posner sketches the history of the federal courts, describes the contemporary institution, appraises the concerns that have been expressed with the courts’ performance, and presents a variety of proposals for both short-term and fundamental reform. In contrast to some of the direr prophecies of observers of the federal courts, Posner emphasizes the success of these courts in adapting to steep caseload growth with minimum sacrifice in quality.

Although the book ranges over a variety of traditional topics in federal jurisdiction, the focus is steady on federal judicial administration conceived of as an interdisciplinary approach emphasizing system rather than doctrine, statistics rather than impressions, and caseload rather than cases. Like the earlier edition, this book promises to be a landmark in the empirical study of judicial administration.

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Federal Courts in the International Human Rights Paradigm
Kenneth C. Randall
Duke University Press, 1990

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The Federal Judiciary
Strengths and Weaknesses
Richard A. Posner
Harvard University Press, 2017

No sitting federal judge has ever written so trenchant a critique of the federal judiciary as Richard A. Posner does in this, his most confrontational book. Skewering the politicization of the Supreme Court, the mismanagement of judicial staff, the overly complex system of appeals, the threat of originalism, outdated procedures, and the backward-looking traditions of law schools and the American judicial system, Posner has written a cri de coeur and a battle cry. With the prospect that the Supreme Court will soon be remade in substantial, potentially revanchist, ways, The Federal Judiciary exposes the American legal system’s most troubling failures in order to instigate much-needed reforms.

Posner presents excerpts from legal texts and arguments to expose their flaws, incorporating his own explanation and judgment to educate readers in the mechanics of judicial thinking. This rigorous intellectual work separates sound logic from artful rhetoric designed to subvert precedent and open the door to oblique interpretations of American constitutional law. In a rebuke of Justice Antonin Scalia’s legacy, Posner shows how originalists have used these rhetorical strategies to advance a self-serving political agenda. Judicial culture adheres to an antiquated traditionalism, Posner argues, that inhibits progressive responses to threats from new technologies and other unforeseen challenges to society.

With practical prescriptions for overhauling judicial practices and precedents, The Federal Judiciary offers an unequaled resource for understanding the institution designed by the founders to check congressional and presidential power and resist its abuse.

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The First Fifteen
How Asian American Women Became Federal Judges
Susan Oki Mollway
Rutgers University Press, 2022
In 1998, an Asian woman first joined the ranks of federal judges with lifetime appointments. It took ten years for the second Asian woman to be appointed. Since then, however, over a dozen more Asian women have received lifetime federal judicial appointments.
 
This book tells the stories of the first fifteen. In the process, it recounts remarkable tales of Asian women overcoming adversity and achieving the American dream, despite being the daughters of a Chinese garment worker, Japanese Americans held in internment camps during World War II, Vietnamese refugees, and penniless Indian immigrants. Yet The First Fifteen also explores how far Asian Americans and women still have to go before the federal judiciary reflects America as a whole. 
 
In a candid series of interviews, these judges reflect upon the personal and professional experiences that led them to this distinguished position, as well as the nerve-wracking political process of being nominated and confirmed for an Article III judgeship. By sharing their diverse stories, The First Fifteen paints a nuanced portrait of how Asian American women are beginning to have a voice in determining American justice.
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Flunking Democracy
Schools, Courts, and Civic Participation
Michael A. Rebell
University of Chicago Press, 2018
The 2016 presidential election campaign and its aftermath have underscored worrisome trends in the present state of our democracy: the extreme polarization of the electorate, the dismissal of people with opposing views, and the widespread acceptance and circulation of one-sided and factually erroneous information. Only a small proportion of those who are eligible actually vote, and a declining number of citizens actively participate in local community activities.

In Flunking Democracy, Michael A. Rebell makes the case that this is not a recent problem, but rather that for generations now, America’s schools have systematically failed to prepare students to be capable citizens. Rebell analyzes the causes of this failure, provides a detailed analysis of what we know about how to prepare students for productive citizenship, and considers examples of best practices. Rebell further argues that this civic decline is also a legal failure—a gross violation of both federal and state constitutions that can only be addressed by the courts. Flunking Democracy concludes with specific recommendations for how the courts can and should address this deficiency, and is essential reading for anyone interested in education, the law, and democratic society.
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