Legal Realism

Legal Realism in the United States

A school of jurisprudence that stresses behavioral and political factors as the most critical to judicial decision making. Legal realism minimizes the impact of abstract legal rules and principles on deciding particular cases. Leading legal realists, such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jerome Frank, and Roscoe Pound, believed that law does not have a transcendental quality but rather is a product of social forces and the behavior of people in the legal process responding to those forces. Legal realism is, in some respects, similar to sociological jurisprudence, although realists are more inclined to view law primarily in terms of official conduct. Legal realists do not subscribe to the rules fashioned in legal precedents because law is neither that certain nor that clear. Rather, decisions are based on judges applying the “right” rules and offering a written rationale for the decision, ideally a rationale grounded on empirical bases.

See Also

Judicial Activism (Judicial Function) Jurisprudence (Judicial Function) Sociological Jurisprudence (Judicial Function).

Analysis and Relevance

The legal realist believes that law is largely the product of human behavior. The exercise of discretion in the application of law is viewed as both inevitable and productive. Since legal judgments are not governed by abstract legal principles, other factors such as personal values shape decisions. Accordingly, legal realists seriously engage in the study of legal institutions and processes as well as the environment in which they operate. They seek to explain conduct of those operating in the legal processes, and attention is focused on the political, sociological, and psychological dimensions of behavior. Legal realism prompted substantial quantities of legal research, and it greatly heightened our understanding of the legal system, especially the lower courts. The legal realist impact can also be seen in the content of texts and courses in contemporary legal education.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Legal Realism from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Legal Realism in the United States

Legal Realism

United States Constitution

According to the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, about its article titled LEGAL REALISMLegal realism was the most significant movement that emerged within American jurisprudence during the 1920s and 1930s. Numerous factors conditioned this development, including pragmatism, sociological jurisprudence, and certain ideas of Justice oliver wendell holmes. The legal realists
(read more about Constitutional law entries here).

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Legal realism Background

Legal Realism: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Legal Realism. This part provides references, in relation to Legal Realism, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Legal Realism by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Legal Realism and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Legal Realism or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Legal Realism and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Legal Realism. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Legal Realism should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Legal Realism when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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