Motivated reasoning

This idea of “motivated reasoning”–“when a person is conforming their assessments of information to some interest or goal that is independent of accuracy”–is interesting. It seems to track Robert Bork’s argument in Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems, 47 Ind. L. J. 1 (1971), his famous article on the subject: The Wechslerian legal process approach is incomplete insofar as it is not enough that courts merely apply neutral, general principles; the principles must themselves be neutrally-derived.

As a rule, I try to identify the underlying principles that seem to lead me to a certain conclusion and see where they go before embracing them. Nevertheless, the fact that I am willing to neutrally and consistently apply the reasoning that lead me to join Chief Justice Rehnquist’s opinion in Bush v. Gore, for example, does not vouchsafe that my original conclusion that Rehnquist was right was uninfected by motivations as to the disposition of the case. (As it happens, Rehnquist made precisely the kind of structural, textual argument that appeals to me, and the case had long been academic by the time that it reached me, so I feel confident in the integrity of my position.)

The integrity of reasoning would seem to be guaranteed not simply by consistent application of principles that once served one’s position, but the identification and embrace of principles at times in which they cut against one’s immediate needs. For example, I originally joined Michael Rappaport’s critique of the modern recess appointments practice during the Bush administration, a time at which that position cut against my immediate partisan interests. Thus, when I later applied that principle against the Obama administration, I could be fully confident that my position, whatever else it might be, was not infected by “motivated reasoning.”