Monday, September 12, 2011

Judicial Interpretation Illustrated

I favor using popular music to illustrate legal principles.

Prof. David Skover of Seattle University Law School has been quoted as saying that "all law is interpretation."  I am in complete agreement.  The following exercise illustrates this principle.

Folk music is an apt analogy for Common Law principles. Consider the legal principle such as, "a person who is negligent is liable for the damages that proximately result." Like a folk song, this principle is well known and accepted, but its precise origin may not easily be determined. Also like a folk song, the principle has been repeated and passed down through the oral tradition. And, also like a folk song, each "performance" of the legal principle (judicial decision) is the result of the performer's own particular interpretation of the song. The ultimate performance of a folk song depends on a number of factors including the versions of the song with which the performer is familar, the performer's own talents and abilities, and the effect that the performer wishes to create for the audience.  I would argue that a judicial decision is like a folk song performance. It  is a product of, among other considerations, the judge's understanding of the legal principle, the judge's talents in seeing the implications of the ruling for society, the judge's ideology regarding the proper role of judges and the impact that the judge intends the ruling to have on society (the audience).

Consider the three following performances of the old Irish folksong, Whiskey in the Jar.  They all come from a common melody and common lyrics - constituting "the law" of the song, if you will. But the performances are significantly different in tone, feeling and impact on the audience. So it is also with the law.

When I use these videos in class, I play about a minute of each for comparison purposes.

This one is extra just for fun. Who can resist Ireland's self-professed #1 Elvis impersonator?

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