Last modified on July 12, 2016, at 05:35

Judge Narragansett

Judge Narragansett (fl. 2011-), in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was a trial judge who left the bench and vanished after his judgment in a case involving a banker accused of loan discrimination was reversed on appeal. He was one of the earliest strikers in the great strike of the men of the mind called by John Galt. At the end of the narrative, he was preparing some badly-needed corrections, additions, and clarifications to the Constitution of the United States.

Spoiler warning
This article contains important plot information


The narrative provides no details of Judge Narragansett's background, other than to say that he appears in the novel as a trial judge in a celebrated case, and that case was the occasion of his defection from society. The description of his opinion and charge to the jury in the case of Hunsacker v. Mulligan (Illinois Superior Court, 2011), and the brief description of his activities in the final chapter, imply that he was a student of constitutional law. He was probably what is known as a strict constructionist, or one who believes that one can only construe things from the Constitution from a strict read of its actual text, without regard to preferences contemporary either to the time of its writing or to today.

What he would have made of the runaway Constitutional convention of 2000, that brought Mr. Thompson to power, the novel does not hint at. Apparently the runaway convention abolished the federal judiciary but not any State judiciaries. Those law courts remained, and Judge Narragansett was determined to enforce the Illinois Constitution, and the bedrock principles of English Common Law that formed its basis, for as long as his higher-ups in the Appellate Division allowed him.

That freedom would come to a sad end in what he would understandably regard as a travesty of justice.

Hunsacker v. Mulligan

The case of Lee Hunsacker v. Midas Mulligan (2011) seemed simple enough. Lee Hunsacker, who had had a very poor record as a businessman, sought a start-up loan to finance his purchase and planned re-activation of the factory of the defunct Twentieth Century Motor Company in Starnesville, Wisconsin. The Twentieth Century was a poor prospect to begin with. Though its founder, Gerald "Jed" Starnes, had built the company into a very successful firm, he had then died, and his heirs who took it over, ran it into the ground within four years. Judge Narragansett might or might not have learned the full particulars of this "running down" when he heard the case.

In any event, the prior record of the company itself was less relevant than was the business record of the man who now was trying to take the factory over and run it. Hunsacker had previously tried to run a company that made paper containers, but his customers had deserted him—and instead of examining his product to see how he might improve it to meet customer demand and expectation, he blamed the customers for "lack of cooperation."

Midas Mulligan (his actual legal name, for he had changed it from "Michael" to "Midas" in the face of petulant criticism of his vast fortune) owned the most successful bank in Chicago, Illinois, the nearest major city to Starnesville. Hunsacker applied to Mulligan for a loan, and Mulligan refused. In his refusal, Mulligan told Hunsacker that his business record made him an extremely bad prospect for running a vegetable pushcart, much less a large factory that employed six thousand people. The men who were in partnership with Hunsacker did not impress Midas Mulligan much better.

Hunsacker, furious at the refusal, filed suit against Mulligan. He made a claim that the narrative describes as "discrimination." As nearly as a close read of the text reveals, Hunsacker alleged that he met the same qualifications for a business loan, including the required security, as did any other businessman, and Mulligan had no grounds to refuse.

Judge Narragansett, in charging the jury in that case, urged them, as strongly as the court rules allowed, to find for the defendant. He pointed out that qualifications on paper were only half the story of a loan application; the other half was risk, and Lee Hunsacker and his partners were, quite simply, bad business risks. And regardless of any particular person's grounds for assessing such risk, it was for Midas Mulligan and only Midas Mulligan to assess the risk that he should take. In Narragansett's view, freedom to trade included freedom not to trade, on any grounds whatever, rational or irrational.

The narrative does not describe fully any statute that might have applied in this case. Very likely such a non-discrimination statute did apply. In his jury charge, Judge Narragansett might have been asking, in essence, for jury nullification, and letting the jury know that it had the duty to apply English Common Law principles, and the State Constitution, ahead of any statute that might be violative of some of its guarantees, particularly of due process and equal protection of the law. Sadly, the Constitution of the United States was obsolete, after the Runaway Convention had destroyed it.

Hunsacker's attorneys took exception to Judge Narragansett's jury charge, and appealed the judgment. The appellate court reversed the judgment. In real life, appellate courts do not normally change verdicts; instead they remand cases for retrial and/or reconsiderations of the points to which the appellant took exception. So the likely scenario is that the appellate court ordered the entire case retried before a second jury, with the further order that any charge to that second jury not include any appeal to jury nullification, but require the jury to follow strictly the letter of the non-discrimination statute.

Judge Narragansett did not take kindly to the reversal, remand, and retrial, or to the further order regarding his jury charge. The interview between Lee Hunsacker and Dagny Taggart implies that the case was in fact taken out of Judge Narragansett's hands completely and tried before another judge more likely to be sympathetic to the plaintiff.

In the next few days, Judge Narragansett would hear that the Mulligan Bank dissolved itself in what bank examiners would later describe as a "controlled run on the bank." Every loan was repaid, and every depositor paid back, so that after twenty-four hours the Mulligan Bank had neither assets nor liabilities nor equity.

John Galt

Doubtless while snapping a pencil in two over yet another case in which he found the law not only inequitable but unconstitutional, Judge Narragansett received a visitor in his chambers. Remarkably, this young man told of having been employed at the Twentieth Century in the last year of the life of Jed Starnes, and of having completed a prototypical electrostatic motor for use in automobiles. He had been present when Jed Starnes had died, and when the heirs had taken over. The heirs had then proposed a business plan by which they would have all workers work as they were able, and be paid according to their needs.

That, then, was how Jed Starnes' heirs had run their company into the ground so that Lee Hunsacker would even be in a position to try to take it over. But the young man had left long before then, and in fact on the first day of the new administration. He had told them,

I will stop the motor of the world.

This man's story was relevant, not so much to Hunsacker v. Mulligan as to Judge Narragansett himself. As this man had quit the factory, and the world, he now encouraged Judge Narragansett to quit the bench. He asked the judge how much longer he could continue to judge when an attempt by him to charge a jury to follow the Constitution, and certain principles of individual liberty, had been reversed on appeal, and likely any future attempt on his part would suffer a similar reversal.

Judge Narragansett found this man hard to argue with. This man was not a lawyer, but he had presented a case that was virtually impossible to argue with, even for a lawyer. This man was, of course, John Galt.

Judge Narragansett did argue the matter with himself for six months, during which time he tried many other cases, some having a similar result. Finally, in November 2011, he had had enough. John Galt somehow knew that he would "have enough" someday, for in that month Galt paid him yet another visit in his chambers. Now the judge delayed no longer.

Mulligan's Valley

Judge Narragansett resigned his judgeship and liquidated everything he could. At first he had no definite plans. John Galt had advised him to retire to live on his savings, if he could, or else to take the lowest job that he could find.

But John Galt stayed in touch with him, and later told him the full details of what Midas had done with his bank. Then he told him that Midas had bought a parcel of land in a secluded valley, accessible only by a very well-hidden road, in the Rocky Mountains. Midas had built a house on that property and laid in a supply of food, seed grain, and livestock that would allow him to live comfortably in the valley indefinitely. The valley had none of the conveniences that the judge was used to, except only electric power and water (because it did, after all, have a river running through it). But at least it was a place to live in complete freedom. More to the point, Midas might be open to leasing a parcel of land to a sympathetic judge who wished to retire to that valley.

The judge did go to the place that John Galt called Mulligan's Valley, and asked Midas for a lease, which Midas granted. If the judge did not immediately recognize the place as the former mining town of Ouray, Colorado, perhaps Midas told him.

The judge then found himself beginning the first division of labor that Mulligan's Valley was to know. He bought some chickens, two milk cows, and a bull, and started a chicken and dairy farm. So at least the valley could now have some fresh food. Then the composer Richard Halley came to the valley and planted orchards of fruit trees. Francisco d'Anconia had earlier driven a copper mine into the side of one of the mountains to the south. Then, with the economic collapse of Colorado, the development of the valley, now widely known as Galt's Gulch, accelerated. Ellis Wyatt started taking oil from a shale-oil field, and Andrew Stockton opened a steel foundry.

Inevitably, Judge Narragansett came out of retirement. He did not hear any lawsuits. The residents of Galt's Gulch were all united in purpose and outlook, and Galt always set as his strictest rule that

Nobody stays in this valley by faking reality in any manner whatever.

Instead, the judge resumed his law practice and drew up and registered contracts, wills, and other documents. He also, on occasion, performed marriages. Ragnar Danneskjöld married the actress Kay Ludlow in 2015, after she had retired from the cinema in 2014. Eventually, John Galt himself would marry Dagny Taggart, but this would wait until the very end of the great strike.

After the strike

Of Judge Narragansett's activities after the final collapse of "outside" civilization, the narrative says only that Judge Narragansett reviewed the Constitution of the United States and struck from it the "contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction." That can only refer to certain issues, from one Amendment after another, that impelled the American public to support, and indeed call for, a Constitutional convention that "ran away."

In addition, the judge proposed this addition to the Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law restricting the freedom of production and trade.

The world to which he returned was likely one in which the government of the Thompson "constitution" had collapsed. What power for law and order existed was in the hands of multiple militias consisting of people who had followed some rather dramatic advice that John Galt had given them in a three-hour speech in November 22, 2019. Galt had told them to

Stop supporting your own destroyers!

Thousands had taken that advice and set up their own versions of Galt's Gulch, chiefly armed camps in various woodlands throughout the country. Those militias were not likely to accept any call for organization by anyone other than John Galt, his two original classmates, or perhaps someone having a reputation for being an honest judge. Perhaps Judge Narragansett was that man.

It is, therefore, conceivable that he would become Chief Justice of a restored United States. And one of his first duties might well have been to preside over a trial of Mr. Thompson, the Head of State, by a militia tribunal. The charges: abdication of his executive responsibility, failure to provide a republican form of government, and failure to prevent an explosion of domestic violence. (And possibly as an accessory to mass murder, specifically in reference to Project X.) He would, however, consider the restoration of Constitutional government, with amendments to prevent the sort of abuses that had earlier driven him from the bench, to be the most important duty that he would likely be called upon to perform.

Spoilers end here.

Likely true-life analogue

As ever in the case of novels,

All characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and unintentional.

Furthermore, Ayn Rand never selected any particular antitype to form the basis of Judge Narragansett's character.

Nevertheless, today at least one prominent former jurist living in the United States stands as a close analogue and antitype for Judge Narragansett: Judge Andrew Napolitano, formerly of the New Jersey Superior Court system, and now the legal analyst-in-chief for the Fox News Channel. Judge Napolitano has frequently commented, often scathingly, on the unconstitutional nature of various statutes and executive orders, decisions, and actions during the years of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.