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Journal Article

Formalism

Frederick Schauer
The Yale Law Journal
Vol. 97, No. 4 (Mar., 1988), pp. 509-548
DOI: 10.2307/796369
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/796369
Page Count: 40
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Formalism
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Abstract

Legal decisions and theories are frequently condemned as formalistic, yet little discussion has occurred regarding exactly what the term "formalism" means. In this Article, Professor Schauer examines divergent uses of the term to elucidate its descriptive content. Conceptions of formalism, he argues, involve the notion that rules constrict the choice of the decisionmaker. Our aversion to formalism stems from denial that the language of rules either can or should constrict choice in this way. Yet Professor Schauer argues that this aversion to formalism should be rethought: At times language both can and should restrict decisionmakers. Consequently, the term "formalistic" should not be used as a blanket condemnation of a decisionmaking process; instead the debate regarding decision according to rules should be confronted on its own terms.

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