Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841–1935)

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was Boston-born and bred. He attended Harvard Law School and then taught there as a professor. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1902 and remained there for three decades, making him unique at the time because he was a scholar of law before he was appointed as a Supreme Court Justice (Sutton 2001). Wendell Holmes was one of the founders of legal realism, a school of thought that argues that laws should be grounded in reality and should benefit the larger society. 

Basic Tenets of Legal Realism

· Judges are responsible for formulating law, rather than just finding it in the law books.

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Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841–1935)
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· Judges make decisions based on what is right and just, before sorting through legal precedents, which can be found to support almost any decision.

· Values, personal background, and preferences are part of the process of legal decision-making.

· Judges must know the historical, economic, and political aspects of the law in order to fulfill his/her functions.

· There is no absolute certainty in the law (Holmes 1897).

Holmes argued for legal pragmatism, meaning he believed the law only made sense if it worked in its practical applications. Laws are enacted by human beings for human beings and therefore must make sense in their daily lives.


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