The Volokh Conspiracy

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Judge Bibas on "Judges Gone Wild"

The federal appellate judge suggests judges should focus less on social media attention, and more on ensuring their opinions are clear, succinct and correct.


In recent remarks before the Harvard Law School chapter of the Federalist Society, Judge Stephanos Bibas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit lamented the tendency of some judges to be more concerned with authoring quote-worthy and attention-grabbing opinions than in writing clear and succinct opinions that properly apply the law to the case at hand.

Reuters reports:

A federal appeals court judge on Wednesday argued his judicial peers too often succumb to a "judges gone wild" mentality of writing "show off" opinions that may trend on Twitter but risk alienating the public instead of being persuasive. . . .

[Bibas said] judges should focus more on writing "in way that ordinary citizens can understand,". . . "Citizens don't read many opinions, but when they do, accessibility is crucial," he said. . . .

"For the show off, it seems to be all about the judge's musings, even the judge's ambitions to be noticed," Bibas said. "'Look at me, look at me, I'm so cool.' That is not authoritative. It is even disrespectful."

Judge Bibas also suggested that judges should spend less time on Twitter and other forms of social media.

Asked by a student how judges feel when a big ruling like his election decisions garners them "newfound fame," Bibas said "the kind of cheerleading you get from Twitter is really dangerous," yet some judges seem to seek that attention.

"Try to be on Twitter less than you otherwise would," he said. "Try not to be searching for the feedback or the plaudits or anything else. Just focus on the craft and find as much internal satisfaction in the craft of judging and writing as you can."

I suspect much of this advice could well apply to legal academics too.