Skip to content

Richard H. Fallon, Jr., A Theory of Judicial Candor, 117 Colum. L. Rev. 2265 (2017).

Abstract: This Essay seeks to reframe a longstanding debate by propounding a novel theory of judicial candor. Previous commentators on judicial candor have failed to draw a crucial distinction between obligations of candor, breaches of which constitute highly culpable failures, and ideals of candor that even the best judges fail to satisfy fully. This Essay argues for a theory of judicial candor that defines both minimal obligations and aspirational ideals and that explains the linkages between the two. This Essay’s potentially larger contribution lies in its provision of a template for thinking about judicial candor. Different people begin with different understandings or intuitive conceptions. To arbitrate among rival perspectives, this Essay posits that discussion needs to begin with familiar patterns of linguistic usage, but insists that analysis cannot stop there. Against the background of linguistic and theoretical disagreement, intellectual progress requires examination of why we have reason to care about judicial candor in the various senses in which that term can be used. At the last stage, the selection of a conception of judicial candor must turn on normative considerations. Consistent with that credo, this Essay not only explains, but also justifies, its conclusions about what judicial candor minimally requires and about the further ideals that it embodies, even if fallible and time-pressed human judges understandably fall short of ideal candor in many cases.