Document Type





Law, Courts, Rule of Law, Legitimacy, Public Opinion, Civility, Courtesy, Politeness, Hypocrisy, Judicial Process




American Politics | American Popular Culture | American Studies | Arts and Humanities | Courts | Dispute Resolution and Arbitration | Judges | Jurisprudence | Law | Law and Politics | Law and Society | Legal History | Legal Studies | Legal Theory | Political Science | Political Theory | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This paper contains the introduction to the new book, All Judges Are Political—Except When They Are Not: Acceptable Hypocrisies and the Rule of Law (Stanford University Press, 2010).

The book begins with the observation that Americans are divided in their beliefs about whether courts operate on the basis of unbiased legal principle or of political interest. This division in public opinion in turn breeds suspicion that judges do not actually mean what they say, that judicial professions of impartiality are just fig leaves used to hide the pursuit of partisan purposes.

Comparing law to the practice of common courtesy, the book explains how our courts not only survive under such suspicions of hypocrisy, but actually depend on them. Law, like courtesy, furnishes a means of getting along: it frames disputes in collectively acceptable ways, and it is a habitual practice, drummed into the minds of citizens by popular culture and formal institutions. The rule of law, understood as the rules of etiquette, is neither particularly fair nor free of paradoxical tensions, but it endures. Although pervasive public skepticism raises fears of judicial crisis and institutional collapse, such skepticism is also an expression of how our legal system ordinarily functions.

Additional Information

Keith J. Bybee holds appointments in law and political science.