Richard A. Posner was born on January 11, 1939, in New York City, and grew up in New York and its suburbs. He graduated from Yale College in 1959, summa cum laude, having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year; he was an English major and a Scholar of the House. He graduated first in his class from Harvard Law School in 1962, magna cum laude, and was President of the Harvard Law Review. He worked for several years in Washington during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations—as law clerk to Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., as an assistant to Commissioner Philip Elman of the Federal Trade Commission, as an assistant to the Solicitor General of the U.S., Thurgood Marshall, and as general counsel of President Johnson’s Task Force on Communications Policy.
Posner entered law teaching in 1968 at Stanford as an associate professor, and became professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School in 1969, where he remained (later as Lee and Brena Freeman Professor of Law) until his appointment to the Seventh Circuit in 1981. During this period Posner wrote a number of books (including Antitrust Law: An Economic Perspective, Economic Analysis of Law—now in its fifth edition—and The Economics of Justice) and many articles (a number of these in collaboration with the economist William Landes), mainly exploring the application of economics to a variety of legal subjects, including antitrust, public utility and common carrier regulation, torts, contracts, and procedure. He called for major reforms in antitrust policy, proposed and sought to test the theory that the common law is best explained as if the judges were trying to promote economic efficiency, urged wealth maximization as a goal of legal and social policy, contributed to the economic theory of regulation and legislation, and extended the economic analysis of law into fields new to such analysis, such as family law, primitive law, racial discrimination, jurisprudence, and privacy. He founded the Journal of Legal Studies, primarily to encourage economic analysis of law, and was a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He also engaged in private consulting and was from 1977 to 1981 the first president of Lexecon Inc., a firm made up of lawyers and economists that provides economic and legal research and support in antitrust, securities, and other litigation.
Posner became a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in December 1981; he was Chief Judge from 1993 to 2000. He continues to teach part time at the University of Chicago Law School, where he is Senior Lecturer, and to write academic articles and books. He has written 30 books and more than 300 articles and book reviews. His academic work since his becoming a judge has included studies in the economics of criminal law, labor law, and intellectual property; in jurisprudence, law and literature, and the interpretation of constitutional and statutory texts; and in the economics of sexuality and of old age. His recent books include Private Choices and Public Health: The AIDS Epidemic in an Economic Perspective (1993) (coauthored with Tomas Philipson), Overcoming Law (1995), Aging and Old Age (1995), a second edition of The Federal Courts (1996), Law and Legal Theory in England and America (1996), a fifth edition of Economic Analysis of Law (1998), a revised and enlarged edition of Law and Literature (1998), The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory (1999), and An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton (1999). His current academic research includes work on judicial administration, evidence, intellectual property, health economics and policy, citations analysis, the public intellectual, antitrust, and jurisprudence and moral theory. Academic writings by Posner have been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Greek.
Posner received honorary degrees of doctor of laws from Syracuse University in 1986, from Duquesne University in 1987, from Georgetown University in 1993, from Yale in 1996, and from the University of Pennsylvania in 1997; and he received the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Ghent in 1995. In 1994 he received the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Award in Law from the University of Virginia. In 1998 he was awarded the Marshall-Wythe Medallion by the College of William and Mary. He is a member of the American Law Institute, the Mont Pèlerin Society, and the Century Association, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an Honorary Bencher of the Inner Temple, a corresponding fellow of the British Academy, an honorary fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, a member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Law and Economics, and a Consultant to the Library of America, as well as a member of the American Economic Association and the American Law and Economics Association (of which he was President in 1995–1996). He was the honorary President of the Bentham Club of University College, London, for 1998. With Orley Ashenfelter, he edits the American Law and Economics Review, the journal of the American Law and Economics Association.
Posner is married to the former Charlene Horn and they have two sons, Kenneth and Eric, and three grandchildren.