August 11, 2016

Allen on Doctrine as a Disruptive Practice.

Jessie Allen, University of Pittsburgh School of Law, has published Doctrine as a Disruptive Practice as University of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-21. Here is the abstract.
This article proposes a different way to think about legal reasoning that focuses on its psychological effects rather than its ability to identify legal outcomes. Legal doctrine, such as statutes and case law, is generally thought to contribute to legal decision making only to the extent that it determines legal outcomes, or at least narrows the range of justifiable outcomes. Yet in many cases that come to court, the available authorities are acknowledged to be indeterminate. Over the course of decades, various theories and methods have been proposed to justify judges’ continued reliance on doctrine. Most of this literature focuses on doctrine’s capacity to direct substantive outcomes and ignores other benefits that doctrinal reasoning might provide. Recently, however, some empirical studies have begun to consider the potential cognitive effects of judges’ engagement with doctrine. This article offers another model for how doctrine might influence judges’ perceptions. Drawing on performance theory and recent psychological studies of readers, I argue that judges’ disciplined engagement with formal legal doctrine might have self-disrupting effects akin to those performers experience when they deliberately alter their physical and vocal habits. Investigating doctrine’s disruptive potential might help explain why judges continue to reason doctrinally despite doctrinal indeterminacy. The model of self-disruptive doctrine cannot explain how judges ultimately resolve, or should resolve, legal questions. But disruptive doctrinal effects would be valuable in and of themselves as a way for legal decision makers to set aside their usual subjective biases.
Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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