The Norman Transcript

Columns

May 1, 2013

Does judicial independence matter to us?

NORMAN — “The law makes a promise — neutrality. If the promise gets broken, the law as we know it ceases to exist.’’

— Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy

Judicial independence is a simple concept. It means that judges decide cases fairly and impartially, relying only on the facts and the law.

Although all judges do not reason alike or necessarily reach the same decision, decisions should be based on the evidence and the law, not on public opinion polls, personal whim, prejudice, fear or interference from the legislative or executive branches or from private citizens or groups. See, it really is an easy concept, right?

Judicial independence has been a core political value in the United States since before the drafting of our Constitution. Alexander Hamilton, in urging ratification of the constitution of the United States, took as obvious the need for a “steady, upright and impartial administration of the laws by a judiciary of firmness and independence.”

“‘Liberty,’ he said, ‘would have everything to fear from (the judiciary’s) union with the legislature or the executive.’” — The Federalist: No. 78

The judicial branch was established in the U.S. Constitution as a co-equal third branch of our government. The primary purposes of the judicial branch are to solve disputes by making fair and impartial decisions based upon facts, uphold the rule of law and protect our rights.

Public confidence in a fair court system is as necessary for our democracy to operate effectively as are fairly elected executives and legislators.

Because of this important function, judicial independence is one of those laudable virtues that is praised on Law Day.

However, it is often resented when practiced. Since judges must often decide sensitive issues, virtually certain to displease at least half of the participants, that resentment often erupts into attacks that can be politically explosive. This circumstance is nothing new.

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