Guido Calabresi, ‘Reflections of a Torts Teacher on the Bench’

I have been a judge for twenty-four years and have taught Torts for sixty years. What has all that taught me about Torts, about federal-state relations in this field, and about judges and judging? The first thing I learned is how important Torts and Torts reasoning are in many areas that we don’t think of as being traditionally Torts. The second thing I have come to realize is how significant federal preemption has become to the field. The third thing I have come to understand is why judges and judicial lawmaking are particularly important in Torts: the people who are active in pushing and resisting Torts ‘reforms’ before legislatures are bound to be repeat players; courts, instead, are invoked by non-repeat parties. My fourth realization upon becoming a judge is a completely different one: there are situations in traditional Torts-negligence law that seem sufficiently rare to require little attention but are, in fact, central to areas of law that a federal judge sees all the time. My fifth point has to do with how little federal judges in general, and federal appellate judges in particular, know or understand about Tort law. My last reflections go to something of a totally other sort. And that is the difference I have come to see in the roles of scholars and of judges. It is often said of judges that they should ‘do justice though the heavens fall’. That is, of course, nonsense. A judge who truly risked causing the heavens to fall would be thrown off the bench in no time. The role of scholars is quite different. As scholars, our role is to tell and write the truth as we have come to see it, fully and courageously, though the heavens fall. Our job is to look in dark places, shine light on what we believe is really going on, and reveal what is actually occurring in the face of the human subterfuges and legal fictions that obscure the truth.

Guido Calabresi, Reflections of a Torts Teacher on the Bench, Journal of Tort Law. Published Online: 2018-10-05. DOI:

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