Angry Judges

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Vanderbilt Law Review

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judges, judicial process, judicial ethics, virtue, Aristotle


Judges | Law | Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility


Judges get angry. Law, however, is of two minds as to whether they should; more importantly, it is of two minds as to whether judges’ anger should influence their behavior and decision making. On the one hand, anger is the quintessentially judicial emotion. It involves appraisal of wrongdoing, attribution of blame, and assignment of punishment — precisely what we ask of judges. On the other, anger is associated with aggression, impulsivity, and irrationality. Aristotle, through his concept of virtue, proposed reconciling this conflict by asking whether a person is angry at the right people, for the right reasons, and in the right way. Modern affective psychology, for its part, offers empirical tools with which to determine whether and when anger conforms to Aristotelian virtue. This Article weaves these strands together to propose a new model of judicial anger: that of the righteously angry judge. The righteously angry judge is angry for good reasons; experiences and expresses that anger in a well-regulated manner; and uses her anger to motivate and carry out the tasks within her delegated authority. Offering not only the first comprehensive descriptive account of judicial anger but also the first theoretical model for how such anger ought to be evaluated, the Article demonstrates how judicial behavior and decision making can benefit by harnessing anger — the most common and potent judicial emotion — in service of righteousness.



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