Out of Order

While lawyers are held in notoriously low esteem by the general public, Max Boot sheds light on judges that will shake their generally positive reputation in OUT OF ORDER: ARROGANCE, CORRUPTION, AND INCOMPETENCE ON THE BENCH. Boot has coined two terms that sum up common failings of judges: “gavelitis” and “juristocracy.” The former describes the disease of arrogance that overcomes too many lawyers the moment they ascend to a judgeship. The latter term describes the end result of that disease, as when judges usurp the democratic process and form a de facto unchecked aristocracy.

Boot’s indictment is wide-ranging and well supported by anecdotal evidence drawn from both civil and criminal cases. He cites notorious plaintiffs’ judges who routinely attract huge, spurious class-action suits and judges with obvious biases that shape their rulings. He also upbraids criminal court judges who, out of misplaced sympathy and a naively utopian liberalism, routinely go easy on criminals in their courts, sometimes freeing them en masse in early release programs. Boot balances statistics on the costs of imprisoning an inmate with calculations of the amount a career criminal costs society for every year he is on the street, arguing that incarcerating criminals is much cheaper than freeing them early.

Boot sees many other patterns of judicial usurpation of the democratically expressed will of the citizenry. He cites cases in which judges have unilaterally mandated obscenely expensive school building and busing programs (paid for by compulsory tax increases) and the forced location of public housing amidst working class neighborhoods that then suffer predictable social disruptions and diminished property values. Boot closes with persuasive suggestions for reforming the system that include the greater use of panels of judges rather than individuals, limitations on the judiciary’s ability to override the general electoral will, and more extensive public oversight of judges.

OUT OF ORDER’s primary virtue is that it focuses attention on the generally respected if invisible and unexamined part of the judicial system. Boot convincingly argues that the respect that many judges receive as a matter of course may depend on the invisibility and lack of public scrutiny that they have until now unjustly enjoyed.