Judges On Political Hot Seat Across The Country

Where Did Such An Idea Ever Come From?

Video – 7.5 minutes

Among all the other daily noise that is invading our lives on the political front is the ever increasing attacks on the various levels of the court system.

As the think tanks and political operatives within the Republican Party comes up with more and more wild ideas that float on the very edge of constitutionality, more and more Americans turn to the third branch of government – the court system – for relief. When such ideas become policy or law they are often challenged in court. This seems to appear to be almost subversive to republican rulers.

So we see Republican power holders in this country now attacking the court systems with whatever weapons they have at hand. Courts exist on paper in the federal Constitution and in every state constitution. However, they are at the mercy of legislative bodies for their operating money and at the behest of the executive and legislative bodies to appoint and confirm judges.

Both of these powers that the other two branches hold over the court systems have been used as leverage over judicial branches over the years. Perhaps the most widely covered leveraging in recent years was done by our own Chuck Grassley and senate Republicans who stalled the hearing for the Obama appointment of Judge Garland. In case you may have forgotten, Republicans were able to stall the Garland nomination long enough for a nominal Republican to be installed as president. Thus we ended up with the ultra-right wing Neil Gorsuch.

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While courts have always been sucked into the political system, it seems that the Republican attacks over the past 10 years or so are less politics and more like a war on the courts.

From Mother Jones last week:    (Here the author Ari Berman is referring to Wisconsin Republican’s  and Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to ignore a court ruling on special legislative elections and pass a law to nullify the court ruling)

Wisconsin Republicans’ refusal to follow the court’s order is part of a broader trend among Republicans at the state level to nullify legal rulings they don’t like and attack judges who rule contrary to their positions.

In Pennsylvania, 12 Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to impeach four Democratic justices on the state supreme court after the court struck down Pennsylvania’s GOP-drawn congressional redistricting map as an unconstitutional gerrymander. The old map gave Republicans an overwhelming 13-5 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation, even though the state is about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, while the new one is expected to result in a smaller Republican edge. “If we allow this to stand without taking action, the future courts are going to decide that the court has the ultimate ability to write law and they can turn around and cite this as precedent where we’ve allowed it to occur with no repercussions on the court,” said Rep. Cris Dush, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The impeachment bill prompted a rare rebuke from the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Thomas Saylor, a Republican who dissented from the redistricting ruling. “Threats of impeachment directed against Justices because of their decision in a particular case are an attack upon an independent judiciary, which is an essential component of our constitutional plan of government,” he said in a statement.

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No state has done more to undermine the independence of the judiciary than North Carolina. The Republicanled legislature there has embarked on an unprecedented plan to transform the state’s courts by gerrymandering judicial maps to elect more Republican judges, making judicial elections partisan instead of nonpartisan, and possibly even allowing the legislature to pick judges instead of the voters.

However, many people forget that Iowa was a pioneer of sorts in attacking the court system in this new era of war on the courts. Who can forget the huge surprise that greeted Iowans the morning of April 3, 2009 when the Iowa State Supreme Court announced in a unanimous decision that gay people could not be barred by the state from marrying the person they love.  

Immediately those in the religious right sought vengeance. A campaign to vote not to retain the justices who voted for this unanimous decision was launched. This would take a couple of elections, but vengeance was had over this issue. In the November election of 2010, the 3 judges that were up for a retention vote all lost.

From a CNN story after the election:

The outcome marks the end of a showdown in the state that was funded by several million dollars from mostly out-of-state groups opposed to the same-sex marriage ruling. The vote became very much a referendum on the issue and the ruling, rather than the judges themselves, analysts say.

The move was spearheaded primarily by Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican Sioux City attorney who lost the nomination for governor of the state and created the group Iowa For Freedom.

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And while the justices did not actively campaign to keep their seats, Ternus did give a speech last month that warned against the power of special interest groups — like the groups that campaigned against the justices. “[They want] our judges to be servants of this group’s ideology, rather than servants of the law.” Ternus said, according to the Des Moines Register. “They simply refuse to accept that an impartial, legally sound and fair reading of the law can lead to an unpopular decision.”

It took 3 election cycles for the religious right to take vengeance on the 7 justices and in the end only the justices who were up for retention in the election of 2010 lost their posts.

But the message was sent loud and clear not only in Iowa but to courts around the country from the right: “If you piss us off we will take revenge.” Not a good way to run a republic that must rely on an impartial court system as the referees.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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