Rehnquist defends judicial independence in year-end report

[JURIST] In a year-end report on the federal judiciary issued Saturday Chief Justice William Rehnquist, still recovering at home from cancer treatment that has kept him off the bench since November, emphasized the need to protect judges from political pressure and threats, citing calls from some conservative groups in partiuclar to impeach judges for judicial "activism":

By guaranteeing judges life tenure during good behavior, the Constitution tries to insulate judges from the public pressures that may affect elected officials. The Constitution protects judicial independence not to benefit judges, but to promote the rule of law: judges are expected to administer the law fairly, without regard to public reaction. Nevertheless, our government, in James Madison's words, ultimately derives "all powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people." Thus, public reaction to judicial decisions, if it is sustained and widespread, can be a factor in the electoral process and lead to the appointment of judges who might decide cases differently....

Although arguments over the federal Judiciary have always been with us, criticism of judges, including charges of activism, have in the eyes of some taken a new turn in recent years.... At the same time, there have been suggestions to impeach federal judges who issue decisions regarded by some as out of the mainstream. And there were several bills introduced in the last Congress that would limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts to decide constitutional challenges to certain kinds of government action....
The 2005 report also discussed the federal judiciary's ongoing budget crisis and the courts caseload. DC Supreme Court litigation firm Goldstein & Howe has posted a copy of Chief Justice Rehnquist's report here [PDF]. The Los Angeles Times has more.


 

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