The Hon. Richard S. Brown, Retired Chief Judge, WI Court of Appeals, said “Lawyers are trained in law school to be lawyers, not politicians. They are trained by legal custom, stare decisis and the common law.” This training is based on the “rule of law” and influences a lawyer’s judicial philosophy.
But the “rule of law” as well as “judicial philosophy” can be ambiguous in meaning and in application. A person’s interpretation of the meaning of the “rule of law” and an individual’s “judicial philosophy” is molded by life experience, personal evaluation, influence by mentors, and individual values.
If you define the “rule of law” to mean that unwritten rules of dignity, respect, and equality are fundamental to the just application of the law, then I agree. No one should be above the law and no one should be treated differently under the law. There is a reason Lady Justice is blindfolded. The west main entrance to the US Supreme Court building is inscribed with the words “Equal Justice Under Law.” I maintain that this is the true meaning of the “rule of law.”
Judicial philosophy, to me, is the manner in which a judge would interpret and apply statutes and case law to a particular set of facts and circumstances. A judge’s duty is to interpret the law, ascertain the meaning of any given legislation, and sometimes determine the intent of those who wrote the law. Judicial philosophy is the way an individual judge understands and interprets the law, as it is written. The ability to articulate thoughts through language separates mankind from the animals. Laws and legislation, as well as constitutions, are drafted using specific words with specific meanings. As a judge, the Court has a duty to use the words of the legislature, interpret those words with natural and common meaning, and apply the law to the individual set of facts. But there is still room for compassion, empathy, and understanding.
Other than lawyers, most people do not relish appearing in court. For the most part, parties involved in litigation or court proceedings are there because they are involved in the worst, most stressful period of time in their lives. It’s a judge’s duty to expedite the process and apply the rules with fairness, justice and understanding.