When judges decide cases in courts of law, are they ethically obligated to apply the law correctly? Many people who think about legal systems believe so. The conviction that judges are “bound” by the law is common among lawyers, judges, legal scholars, and members of the general public. One of the most severe accusations one can make against a public official is that she has deviated from the law in her official capacity. The principle of judicial fidelity figures centrally in one of the most celebrated Western political values: the rule of law. This is an ideal which some Western powers, notably the United States, aspire to export on a global scale. The principle of judicial fidelity implies many basic norms of adjudication. These vary from one legal system to another, but in Anglo-American systems they include the following: trial judges must take all admissible evidence into account; judges must follow recognized sources of law, such as constitutions, legislation, and common-law rules; inferior courts must follow superior court rulings on matters of law; courts should give at least substantial weight even to “horizontal” precedent; et cetera. Limits of Legality is a scholarly monograph, in progress, that advances our understanding of the principle of judicial fidelity and defends a refined and unorthodox version of it. The book draws on my background as both a lawyer and a philosopher, addressing issues at the intersection of legal philosophy and ethical theory. It breaks new ground in the normative theory of adjudication – the branch of legal philosophy that concerns how judges in courts of law should decide cases. Mine is one of the first projects to apply the resources of contemporary normative ethics to central questions concerning the rule of law and judicial obligation. I model the normative presuppositions of existing theories of the rule of law in terms that take into account developments in ethical theory over the past two decades..
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