David C. Baum Memorial Lecture

Moving the Strike Zone: How Judges Sometimes Make Law

Many judges and politicians say that judges should act like umpires in the judicial arena and simply “call balls and strikes.” These judges and politicians have convinced a large portion of the U.S. public that judges should act this way and, therefore, should not make law but instead interpret the Constitution using so-called “originalism” or “strict constructionism.” But is it even possible for a judge to simply act as an umpire?This Article argues that there is no fixed “strike zone” for judges to use and that they must rule based on the facts and circumstances of the cases before them. This Article starts by discussing the origins and inadequacies of the comparisons of judges to both baseball umpires and the commissioner of baseball. It then moves on to discuss the restraints on judicial decision making present in the U.S. system regardless of a judge’s philosophical viewpoint. This Article then moves on to discuss how judges not only make law but cannot avoid doing so. Finally, this Article asserts that judges’ rulings reflect the common understanding of the day and that the clear and fixed legal rules that would allow judges to act as umpires simply do not exist.

The full text of this David C. Baum Memorial Lecture is available to download as a PDF.