Backlash against judges
DENVER — Judges across several Western states could soon face new limits on their authority and threats to their independence, as conservatives campaign for ballot measures that aim to rein in what they describe as "runaway courts."
Frustration among the right has been building for years, especially since the high court in Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2003. Politicians and pastors have accused judges of ignoring the public will and legislating from the bench . . . . .
South Dakota's Amendment E would have the most sweeping effect; it has drawn opposition from conservatives and liberals — including, in a rare show of unanimity, every member of the state Legislature.
Under the amendment judges in the state could lose their jobs or assets if citizens disliked how they sentenced a criminal, resolved a business dispute or settled a divorce. "We want to give power back to the people," said Jake Hanes, a spokesman for the measure.
A special grand jury would evaluate citizen complaints against judges — and judges would not be presumed innocent. Amendment E explicitly instructs jurors to "liberally" tilt in favor of any citizen with a grievance, and "not to be swayed by artful presentation by the judge."
Amendment E is titled "Judicial Accountability Initiative Law" (J.A.I.L.). The campaign website is here and the state legislature's resolution opposing the amendment is here. It is noteworthy that the resolution contains statements having nothing to do with the merits of the proposed amendment, e.g.,
WHEREAS, Amendment E was drafted by a resident of California and the petitions were circulated by paid out-of-state persons; and
WHEREAS, the Amendment E petition failed to get more than a few thousand signatures in California, and thus was never submitted to California voters; and . . . . .
South Dakota, like California, has a "direct" initiative (proposition placed directly on ballot) but no "indirect" initiative (proposition submitted to the legislature first). It seems that by voting on a resolution on Amendment E, the S.D. legislature was treating this proposition as though it had been created by an indirect initiative. I have lived in California for many years and seen dozens of propositions and to my knowledge the state legislature has never voted on a resolution regarding any one of them. I think that it was grossly improper of the S.D. legislature to vote on Amendment E.
Also, I think that the S.D. legislature is rather hypocritical about claiming to have a high respect for judicial decisions, because a recently enacted hard-line S.D. anti-abortion law was intended to be a direct challenge of Roe v. Wade.
The initials of Amendment E's title, J.A.I.L., are also the initials of the organization pushing the amendment. Maybe about 10 years ago, when I was fighting California's abominable motor-vehicle "smog impact fee," I participated in a J.A.I.L. demonstration at a courthouse -- there was just a handful of demonstrators. I never expected the organization to get as far as it has today.
I fired off the following letter to the L.A. Times in response to the article --
I wonder how much of public resentment of judges is the result of bad personal experiences with judges. I am not just talking about disagreement with the judges' decisions -- I am talking about gross malpractice on the part of judges, e.g., issuing decisions without opinions, arbitrary and capricious decisions, and apparent collusion with attorneys, particularly government attorneys. I have experienced all of these things as a pro se (self-represented) litigant. Complaints about bad personal experiences with judges should not just be dismissed as "sore loser" reactions -- attorneys have told me that judges are prejudiced against pro se litigants. Also, judges often make time for high-profile cases by giving short shrift to low-profile cases.
This resentment of judges might be a threat to judicial independence, but I think that this resentment also has a silver lining. For example, the Los Angeles Superior/Municipal Court's new special office for assisting pro se litigants could be an indication that the judges are starting to feel the heat.
The author of the article sent the following reply --
thanks for your interest in the article --
i think you're absolutely right. my sense is that the leaders of the movement to rein in judges have broad ideological objections to the way the courts are run. but they get support from the masses because people like yourself have had bad experiences in court, either in trials or in settling divorces or even something as simple as trying to pay a traffic ticket or reschedule jury duty
in any case, i appreciate your taking the time to write ---.
There are several articles in this blog on the subject of "judicial independence." The blog search window appears to be working again, so it is only necessary to enter those words in the window. The blog search window is in the top border of the blog and is not visible unless you are scrolled to the very top.
Labels: Judicial independence