Judge Richard Posner was appointed to the bench by former President Ronald Reagan, and has earned a sparkling reputation as a conservative jurist. But Posner, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, says the current incarnation of the Republican Party has driven him away from conservatism.
In a candid interview with NPR Thursday, Posner opened up about what he sees as a “real deterioration in conservative thinking” over the last decade.
“I’ve become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy,” Posner said.
Posner’s remarks are likely to delight the left, although this isn’t his first liberal embrace. Early in his career, he served under progressive lions such as former Supreme Court Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, but Posner veered toward the right after he began teaching at Stanford Law School in the late 1960s. Since his 1981 nomination by Reagan, he has become one of the most widely respected conservative judicial thinkers and one of its most prolific writers. He is a lecturer at University of Chicago Law School and has written dozens of books on law and economics. In recent years, however, Posner has grown disillusioned with his erstwhile allies on the right.
The latest bit of right-wing goofiness to draw Posner’s ire: the speculation over the Affordable Care Act decision. Posner called the conspiracy theories that seek to explain Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion to uphold the law a “very serious mistake” on the part of conservatives. Roberts, Posner suggested, might also realize that he has no home on the right.
“I mean, what would you do if you were Roberts?” Posner said. “All the sudden you find out that the people you thought were your friends have turned against you, they despise you, they mistreat you, they leak to the press. What do you do? Do you become more conservative? Or do you say, ‘What am I doing with this crowd of lunatics?’ Right? Maybe you have to re-examine your position.”
Posner has spoken out recently against other conservatives on the court, namely Justice Antonin Scalia. After Scalia’s fiery dissent in the Arizona immigration case, in which he took aim at President Obama, Posner wrote in Slate that Scalia was becoming a political actor: “It wouldn’t surprise me if Justice Scalia’s opinion were quoted in campaign ads.”
Tom Kludt is a newswriter for TPM. A former research intern and polling fellow for TPM, he lives and works in New York City. Tom graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Dakota in May of 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. He can be reached at Tom (at) talkingpointsmemo.com.