Learning from the Seventh Circuit — the Art of Being Influenced


The New York Times’ recent article about Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Wood, a “left-leaning woman in a world of right-leaning men,” highlights her ability to influence her colleagues — most notably conservatives Judge Richard Posner and Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook.

Her skills as a persuader make her an attractive potential Supreme Court nominee to Democrats like me seeking to replace retiring Justice Stevens with a jurist who can influence Justice Kennedy to side with the more liberal wing of the high court.

Enormous credit is due the extraordinary Judge Wood, and I am intrigued by her possible candidacy. However, I want to acknowledge her colleagues as well. As estimable as Judge Wood’s skills of legal reasoning and persuasion are, it is equally admirable that two such intellectual titans, Judges Posner and Easterbrook, are willing to be influenced. These legal scholars possess not just rigorous intelligence but also the readiness to re-examine their own beliefs and listen to and be swayed by their colleagues. This ability is a sign of wisdom and self-confidence. Too often we conflate ideological conviction with self-confidence. But a truly confident person understands that in order to build consensus, all participants need to be open to yielding at times.

Our appellate system depends on our circuit judges and Supreme Court Justices to work together and create consensus. In an era where partisan disparagement of the other side’s arguments is de rigeur, it is encouraging to see these three work together as respectful colleagues, whether in consensus or in dissent. Kudos to all members of this somewhat unlikely threesome. We can all learn from their example.