Judges Changing Their Minds

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine contained an article titled “Better Judgment.”  The article discussed instances in which famous appellate jurists, including Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the author’s own grandfather, David Bazelon, who sat on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, had publicly changed their minds about one of their own landmark decisions.  The author, the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School and a frequent contributor to slate.com, offers some interesting ideas about potential reasons for judicial changes of mind, and her article is well worth reading.

The article does not, however, include one of the most famous quotes from a jurist in the Anglo-American legal system as to why he changed his mind.  That quote, from the English Baron Bramwell in an 1872 case, has been invoked by many American jurists, including (on more than one occasion) our own Justice Clifford, who called it a “reassuring old turkey”:  “the matter does not appear to me now as it appears to have appeared to me then.”  Though, as “Better Judgment” rightly observes, there are a number of reasons, including intervening events or changes in the law, why judges change their minds, the Bramwell dictum is sometimes the best explanation.