On judicial expertise

This article about Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California is excellent, the thesis being that Judge Alsup, maybe unique or at least exceptional on the federal bench, has experience in coding. So it works out well that a lot of tech-heavy cases end up on his docket. 

When I teach my class, the second discussion regards different judicial approaches, and I use a series of articles back and forth between Garner & Scalia on the one hand, and Posner on the other. Garner and Scalia argue a judge only needs to know commonsense application of rules to reach the right result; Posner takes the position you need to know the underlying facts. And I return to this repeatedly (for instance, asking whether administrative agencies reach better results than judges because of their expertise). I confess to thinking judges need to keep an eye toward results - also, but not only, process - and therefore experience is material. To put it in other terms, a judge once told the audience, during oral argument, that it was his first foray into marine insurance, and he hoped it would be his last. My heart sank a little because experience matters. 

The article takes the position that experience matters, and it matters a lot in matters of code. It's hard for me to consider that wrong. For every legal conclusion, there are a number of factual conclusions, and even the legal conclusions are informed by facts. It is, after all, a dispute between parties over a certain set of facts that leads to a lawsuit and a judicial determination. How can somebody say where on the idea/expression dichotomy something falls if they aren't familiar with the underlying facts?

Marine world - even marine insurance - is nowhere near as complicated as LIDAR. For one thing, I can talk about marine stuff for ages, but I can't talk about JAVA or LIDAR or GNU for five minutes without revealing my ignorance.