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Richard Posner

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Richard Posner
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Current Court Information:
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Title:   Judge
Station:   Chicago, IL
Appointed by:   Ronald Reagan
Active:   12/01/1981-Present
Chief:   1993-2000
Preceded by:   Philip Tone
Personal History
Born:   1939
Hometown:   New York, NY
Undergraduate:   Yale University, 1959
Law School:   Harvard Law, 1962

Richard Allen Posner (b. 1939) is a federal judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. He joined the court in 1981 after being nominated by President Ronald Reagan.[1] Posner, considered a legal conservative, has been identified by the Journal of Legal Studies as the most-cited legal scholar of the 20th century.[2][3]

Early life and education

A native of New York State, Posner graduated from Yale with his bachelor's degree in 1959, and later graduated from Harvard Law with his Juris Doctor in 1962.[1] Posner was valedictorian of his Harvard Law class.[2]

Professional career

Judicial career

On the recommendation of U.S. Senator Charles Percy, Posner was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on October 27, 1981, to a seat vacated by Philip Tone. Posner was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on November 24, 1981, on a Senate vote and received commission on December 1, 1981. Posner served as the chief judge of the court from 1993 to 2000.[1]


Posner has written over 40 books on a variety of topics. A number of law schools have classes devoted to the study of Posner's rulings.[2]

Notable cases

Confirming district court rulings on same-sex marriages (2014)

     United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Baskin v. Bogan and Wolf v. Walker, 14-2386, 14-2388 and 14-2526)

Judge Richard Posner was the opinion writing judge on a Seventh Circuit panel that heard the cases of Baskin v. Bogan and Wolf v. Walker, which involved same-sex marriage in Indiana and Wisconsin. The other members of the panel were David Hamilton and Ann Williams. During the oral arguments, both Wisconsin and Indiana attorney's argued that their respective states' ban on same-sex marriage was to dissuade "accidental births" that led to children being raised by a single parent or in the foster system. This argument was dismissed by the panel during oral arguments as well as in Judge Posner's written opinion. Posner wrote:
Overlooked by this argument is that many of those abandoned children are adopted by homosexual couples, and those children would be better off both emotionally and economically if their adoptive parents were married.[4][5]

On the point of Indiana's defense, that their only purpose for marriage is for the betterment of children, Posner found that if this was the sole purpose for marriage, allowing heterosexual couples who cannot conceive wouldn't be allowed in the state.[4]

Posner continues on in his dismantling of the defenses arguments, dismissing Wisconsin's argument of tradition being a basis for their ban on same-sex marriage. This argument was found be flawed since interracial marriage was defended on the same principle and does not establish the legality of discrimination.[4]

The Seventh Circuit upheld the Wisconsin and Indiana rulings that struck down the ban on same-sex marriages. Indiana and Wisconsin appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.[6]

"Banana Lady" copyright infringement case dismissed (2014)

     United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Conrad v. AM Community Credit Union, et al, 13-2899)

On April 14, 2014, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit, composed of Judges Posner, Michael Kanne, and John Tinder, found that Catherine Conrad (also known as the "Banana Lady"), a pro se plaintiff, did not have a valid copyright infringement claim related to videos of her "singing telegram" performance posted on Facebook.[7]

In the underlying case, Conrad performed at a credit union trade association conference, but asked that audience members not take photos or videos of the performance, save for their own personal use. Audience members then posted photos and videos of her performance on their personal Facebook pages, which prompted Conrad to sue, alleging violations of her intellectual property rights. Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin dismissed Conrad's suit, finding that it had no legal merit.[7]

Conrad further appealed to the Seventh Circuit, where Posner, writing for the majority, affirmed Judge Crabb's dismissal of the lawsuit, noting that the "Banana Lady" had long abused the judicial system, having filed at least eight "frivolous lawsuits" in federal court since 2009, and at least nine in state court since 2011. Posner encouraged the Western District of Wisconsin to prevent Conrad from filing additional lawsuits until she paid her prior litigation debts of over $130,000 in defendants' fees and costs.[7]

Hal Turner threatens fed. judges (2009-2010)

     United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (United States, v. Harold Turner, 1:09-cr-00542)

Judge Posner faced a death threat from a blogger in the State of New Jersey after the ruling in the National Rifle Association v. Chicago case. The death threat happened after Judge Posner participated in the gun rights case with fellow judges Frank Easterbrook and William Bauer.[8]

The three judges, on June 2, 2009, unanimously upheld the ban on handguns in the City of Chicago.[9] The judges on the panel ruled that the Second Amendment does not preempt Chicago's handgun ban.[9] Hal Turner, the blogger from New Jersey, was not happy with the judges' decision and posted a headline on his blog saying, "these judges deserve to be killed" after the three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit issued its ruling.[8]

Hal Turner was subsequently charged with threatening a federal judge.[8] Under the Court Security Enhancement Act of 2007, Turner would have faced long prison sentence if convicted because the 2007 law increased sentences for any person convicted of threatening a federal judge.[8] On December 8, 2009, Turner was acquitted after the jury was deadlocked in reaching a verdict.[10]

Judge Posner testified on March 2, 2010, in the second trial of Hal Turner. Posner, along with fellow judges Easterbrook and Bauer, testified as witnesses for the prosecution. None of the three judges were called as witnesses during the first trial for Turner.[11]

In August 2010, Turner was convicted in his second trial, and sentenced to 33 months in prison. He appealed, claiming again that he had engaged in political speech protected by the First Amendment. The Second Circuit upheld the conviction, saying that while Turner had a constitutionally protected right to criticize courts, he had no such right, and it is against the law, to threaten the lives of judges with intent. Turner argued that his statements were "political hyperbole," but this argument was rejected.[12]

"Fast Eddie" case: Chicago Alderman Edward Vrdolyak guilty of fraud (2009-2010)

     United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (United States, v. Edward R. Vrdolyak, 09-1891)

Judge Posner was the lead judge in a three-judge panel that heard the oral arguments of federal prosecutors who appealed a five-year probation sentence for former Chicago Alderman Eddie Vrdolyak.

During the oral arguments, Judge Posner expressed serious issues over fellow federal judge Milton Shadur sentencing the decorated Alderman to five years of probation after pleading guilty to fraud charges.

Federal prosecutors asked the judges to allow Vrdolyak to be re-sentenced by another federal judge.[13]

On January 29, 2010, a panel led by Richard Posner voted 2-1 to order the re-sentencing of Edward Vrdolyak. In the written opinion, Posner felt that Judge Shadur erred in judgment and gave Vrdolyak "a slap on the wrist" sentence. Attorneys for Vrdolyak planned to appeal the ruling en banc, meaning for all the judges in the Seventh Circuit to rule on.[14]

Wisconsin law degrees and the WI bar (2009)

     United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Christopher L. Wiesmueller, v. John Kosobucki, et al., 07-c-2601)

In July 2009, Judge Posner re-authorized a class-action lawsuit over the diploma-privilege clause given to graduates of Wisconsin and Marquette Law. Judge Posner's decision to reauthorize the case raised questions about Wisconsin's practice of admitting new graduates from Marquette and Wisconsin Law to the bar without taking a bar exam. The law stated that graduates of accredited law schools in states other than Wisconsin that want to practice law in the state have to pass the Wisconsin bar exam or have practiced law for five years in another state.[15]

The plaintiffs, graduates of Oklahoma City Law, argued Wisconsin's policy violated the commerce clause of the Constitution by discriminating against graduates of out-of-state law schools. The plaintiffs claimed that Wisconsin should extend diploma privilege to graduates of other law schools. The lawsuit named the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners and the Wisconsin Supreme Court as defendants.

The case was first filed in 2007 in the Western District of Wisconsin. Senior Judge John C. Shabaz dismissed the case. Judge Shabaz said "that diploma privilege does not discriminate because everyone who did not graduate from a Wisconsin law school has to take the bar." Judge Shabaz in his ruling mentioned state residents and non-residents alike.

Fellow judges Diane Wood and Ken Ripple also served with Judge Posner on the panel. The panel ordered the case to be re-heard by the Western District of Wisconsin.[15]

Views on marijuana decriminalization

In a September 2012 lecture at Elmhurst College, Posner called for the elimination of criminal laws against marijuana. In his comments, Posner said, "The notion of using the criminal law as the primary means of dealing with a problem of addiction, of misuse, of ingesting dangerous drugs — I don’t think that’s sensible at all.” Posner noted that drug laws are “responsible for a high percentage of our prisoners. And these punishments are often very, very severe. It’s all very expensive." In addition, Posner said that drug laws are “…a waste of a lot of high quality legal minds, and it’s also a waste of people’s lives who could be at least moderately productive without having to spend year after year in prison. That is a serious problem.”[2]

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Biography of Richard Allen Posner at the Federal Judicial Center
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3, "Respected Federal Judge Calls for Legalizing Marijuana," September 7, 2012
  3. Journal of Legal Studies, "The Most-Cited Legal Scholars (Volume 29/Issue 1)," 2000
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, "Baskin v. Bogan," September 4, 2014
  5. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  6. Think Progress, "Seventh Circuit Unanimously Rejects Indiana And Wisconsin’s Same-Sex Marriage Bans," September 4, 2014
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Courthouse News Service, "7th Circuit Squishes Banana Lady's Suit," April 16, 2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Chicago Sun-Times, "Fresh fears for judges," July 13, 2009
  9. 9.0 9.1 Chicago Daily Herald, "Court upholds Chicago handgun ban," June 2, 2009
  10. New York Law Journal, "Mistrial in Case of Blogger Accused of Threatening Judges," December 8, 2009
  11. New York Times, "3 U.S. Judges Testify in a Death Threat Case," March 2, 2010
  12. Reuters, "U.S. court upholds radio host's conviction for threats to judges," June 21, 2013
  13. Chicago Tribune, "Edward Vrdolyak: Appeals court examines former alderman's light sentence," December 11, 2009
  14. Chicago Sun-Times, "Appeals panel revokes Vrdolyak's get-out-of-jail-free card," January 30, 2010
  15. 15.0 15.1 Journal Sentinel, "Lawsuit challenges policy that lets some grads skip bar exam," July 12, 2009
Federal judicial offices
Preceded by:
Philip Tone
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
Succeeded by: