American Judges Association



Roger Hanson

Date of this Version

January 2002


Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 38:4 (2002), pp. 10-16. Copyright © 2002 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission. Online at


There is a lot of talk these days about the role of a judge, especially among trial court judges. Frequently the discussion is framed in terms of whether the judiciary should be expected to behave in one of two polar-opposite ways. Should they be primarily almost aloof finders of fact, impartial and nearly devoid of intimate contact with and knowledge of litigants and their circumstances? Or should they be one of many possible partners to a diagnostic, therapeutic oriented response process to ameliorate underlying and messy problems of litigants? These choices confront judges with the creation and development of drug courts, domestic abuse courts, gun courts, mental health courts, community courts, and other courts revolving around social maladies.
These are not negligible choices with few consequences. The contention of this article is that changes in judicial roles have profound implications, even though the advocates of particular role changes might see them as improvements in the manner in which judges make decisions and carry out their responsibilities. To support this argument, the article tries to sort out some of the implications of what has happened to the judicial role in past several years. Certainly there are few judges who would claim that judging today is just like it was 30 years ago, or like they think it was 30 years ago. For this reason, I think that there is a need for a deliberative and purposive discussion on the judicial role—past, present, and future. The intended contribution of this article is to encourage that dialogue by synthesizing scholarly observations on the importance of the judicial role, to suggest what have been implications of past role changes, and to recommend what should be on the future agenda of action and research.

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