A fellow jackel, Matthew Reid Krell has a recent law review article that looks at judges through the lens of a soccer referee instead of as an umpire.
The rules of soccer, as well, like the rules of baseball, allow for significant leeway on the part of the referee. To take just one example that turns up in nearly every game, the rule for declaring a player offsides states
that a player commits an offside offense by
a) being in an offsides position, and b) “if, at the moment the ball is touched or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by: 1)interfering with play; 2) interfering with an opponent; or 3) gaining an advantage by being in that position.”
While this is a relatively straight-forward call when the player in offsides position receives a pass, it becomes much less clear when an offsides player is away from the active play around the ball. For example, if the offsides player has “crashed the box,” or moved close to the goal, are they interfering with the keeper? If the offsides player is available as a pass recipient from the player in possession, and the keeper has been drawn off the attacker’s angle, in order to position themselves to deal with a pass to the offsides player, has the offsides player gained an advantage, even if the play never actually runs through them? ….
When considering whether to send off a player (a “red card”) for denying an obvious goal-scoring
opportunity, FIFA directs referees to consider a five-part test. While this is not as complicated as baseball’s “triskaedeka-partite test” for determining whether a pitcher has committed a balk, referees evaluating this
must do so at a sprint, in a split second, and may be forty to fifty yards away if play has moved down the field quickly. In the same manner, judges must sometimes make decisions they do not feel prepared to
I think the umpire analogy has stronger roles at the non-Supreme Court level. There is discretion but a fairly well defined rule book. At the Supreme Court level, the judges have far more discretion within the confines of their field. Precedent is informative to some degree but not absolute and consistency between decisions is a quasi-random variable that can be distinguished away.
So when we see the deployment of the umpire just calling balls and strikes quotes, think about the referee working towards facilitating a fair and safe game.