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Book Review

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This paper is a review essay of W. Bradley Wendel's Lawyers and Fidelity to Law, part of a symposium on Wendel's book. Parts I and II aim to situate Wendel's book within the literature on philosophical or theoretical legal ethics. I focus on two points: Wendel's argument that legal ethics should be examined through the lens of political theory rather than moral philosophy, and his emphasis on the role law plays in setting terms of social coexistence in the midst of moral pluralism. Both of these themes lead him to reject viewing legal ethics as an instance of "the problem of role morality." In part III I note the similarity between Wendel's view and that of legal process theorists, and I argue that the view involves too much complacency about the American legal system. Part IV examines the central metaphor of Wendel's book, fidelity to law. I distinguish between two forms of fidelity, personal and interpretive. The former is a relation between persons, while the latter means mimetic accuracy in interpretation, translation, performance of music, portraiture, or other forms of representation. I agree with Wendel's views on the requirement that lawyers exhibit interpretive fidelity toward law, but not personal fidelity. I argue that law is not the kind of thing toward which one can have personal fidelity; rather, the fidelity must be toward other members of the community rather than toward norms as such; and in cases where the law systematically discriminates, or is otherwise systematically unjust, the bonds of reciprocity grounding such a relation are absent, and the kind of unconditional obedience to law that Wendel supports is unjustified. Part V asks where, on Wendel’s view, the morality went. I argue that Wendel's view, which derives from but modifies Joseph Raz's analysis of legal authority as exclusionary reasons, does not succeed—either it begs the question of whether law actually provides exclusionary reasons or, if (as Wendel suggests) the reasons are not wholly exclusionary, Raz’s two levels of reasoning collapse into one, and acting on moral grounds is not in fact excluded by legal authority. I then turn to Wendel's ideas about "moral remainders"—the moral costs that acting on his view of legal ethics may inflict on others. Wendel suggests that some form of atonement can cancel the moral remainder, but I am skeptical that his proposal—atoning through law reform activities—can do the job.

Publication Citation

90 Tex. L. Rev. 673-690 (2012) (reviewing W. Bradley Wendel, Lawyers and Fidelity to Law (2010))