Gingrich is Wrong on Judges
This op-ed by ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III appeared in The Des Moines Register December 21, 2011
Abolish courts. Ignore rulings. Impeach judges. These are just a few of the ideas Newt Gingrich has suggested to win over the Republican voters in Iowa.
But his headline-grabbing proposals represent more than just campaign rhetoric. They seek to undo more than 200 years of constitutional democracy and undermine the one safe haven Americans have to resolve a dispute: our courts.
You won’t hear judges respond when Gingrich says our courts are “grotesquely dictatorial,” or when the candidate says he would consider dispatching U.S. marshals to round up judges to testify before Congress.
The judiciary isn’t a powerful interest group. Courts cannot raise money or marshal voters, unlike Gingrich. Our courts are easy targets because judges do not respond to these attacks. They are, by design, not supposed to react to the whims and passions of politicians.
Our nation’s founders specifically separated our government into three co-equal branches to prevent the excessive accumulation of power by the legislative, executive or judicial branches. In real terms, judicial independence means that courts protect and enforce our rights as Americans. Without them, authorities could kick down your door whenever they choose, record your conversations on phones and computers, or prevent you from protesting peacefully.
When a judge makes a decision, it should be made without fear of intimidation or retaliation. In return, the public must have confidence that the judiciary will be impartial and not swayed by outside influence.
With our growing population and fragile economy, elected officials and those seeking office should focus attention on the fundamental problems facing our courts. The state judicial system is on the verge of becoming nonfunctional and irrelevant because of increasing workloads and inadequate funding. The federal judiciary suffers from a chronic undersupply of judges and a ballooning number of statutes that have led to a growing docket of cases.
No one claims that judges are infallible. That is why we have appellate courts within the judiciary and a system of checks and balances among the branches. We can and should pursue a thoughtful conversation about how to improve and strengthen our judicial system without denigrating individual judges, courts or their decisions.
No one likes a bully — be it an office holder, a candidate for public office or a branch of government. The drafters of our Constitution knew that better than anyone.
That generation was defined by the monuments it built. Will ours be defined by the ones we destroy? Let’s stand up for one of our most precious monuments — our judiciary — as a place of integrity and independence. Our liberty depends on it.