Why I Like Being a Federal Judge, a poem
My absolute favorite thing to do is to make
rulings without enunciating any reasons at all.
Sure, I like the black robes, the high chair,
smacking the little wooden hammer. But mostly
my fiercest joy is mental. I’m not a flashy
creature: I wear the same glasses I’ve worn
for the past forty years on the bench.
The bulky style flatters my high forehead,
my firm jaw. It’s what I’m used to, and,
like any octogenarian, I like the things
I’m used to. So for the same reason I let
them sweat to figure out why I decided the case
the way I did. The lawyers really scramble
around then, falling over each other on the way
to appellate review like fat geese with
clipped wings being chased by a Rottweiler.
I am that Rottweiler — I still exercise
for an hour every other day. Both my parents
lived well into their nineties. I love it
when attorney-faces bulge red. It’s fun
to watch from my elevated perch. Being
reversed on appeal is considered a failure
to many, but not for me. I don’t care one bit
about that sort of consistency. Ask my wife.
My job, instead, is to highlight the glamour,
the magical, supple qualities of justice.
That pretty lady doesn’t wear a blindfold
for nothing, you know? Occasionally I wonder
if I’d feel as good about myself without having
gotten this appointment. You have no idea how
the power of life and death feels until you’ve
heard the slender moans of the duly convicted.
I remember years ago, before I was a judge —
the things I thought my clients were entitled to!
Now I know better. They get exactly what
I feel like doling out on a given day — and
God save us all if I’m coming down with the flu.
There is always a lesson to be learned
from making decisions, wrong or right.
The more mysterious my legal theory, the more
deference it gets. Why, sometimes I even
cite cases completely at random: keep them
guessing, it’s the surest way to get respect.
At least when they’re beginning, baby lawyers
think themselves just too dumb to understand;
that’s the way I want to keep it. Too many
findings of fact and conclusions of law
can drive a person batty. The better practice is
to decide how I’d like reality to be, then sweep
the slate clean and start over rewriting history.
It’s why I am never in a difficult position
deciding how to approach a case. But the very
best part of all is: saying nothing about
the innards of my rulings raises no impediment
to being obeyed. The U.S. marshals wear that badge
whether the parties want him to or not. Plain and
simple, everybody’s stuck with me, for life.