Are Judges Morally Obligated to Apply the Law?

Abstract

As a conscientious moral agent, a judge in a court of law often finds herself in a difficult position. She is confident that the law requires a certain result in the case before her, but she is at least as confident that this legally required result is unjust or otherwise morally objectionable. Consider some examples of cases in which a reasonable judge might consider herself to be in this position: ▪ The law of landlord and tenant can require a judge to evict an impoverished, elderly widow from her apartment for missing rent payments.1 ▪ A student in a poor school district sues his state for providing a much lower caliber of education than students receive in wealthier districts. Binding legal precedent requires the judge to dismiss the student’s lawsuit. ▪ Binding precedents construing the Fourth Amendment require judges to exclude evidence obtained without a search warrant. As a result, a child molester is acquitted, and, predictably, strikes again.

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