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The War on Judges

Just when we’d think the ethically bloodied House majority leader, Tom DeLay, would try to lower his profile, he’s intensifying a crusade (in every sense of the word) for congressional control over the judicial branch of government. If it were just DeLay, the effort wouldn’t seem so serious. But he has powerful company in Congress.

“Judicial independence does not equal judicial supremacy,” DeLay (R-Texas) said Thursday. Congress, instead of just complaining about federal courts that “run amok” in defending the right to abortion and banning school prayer, must set limits and “make sure the judges administer their responsibilities,” he said, according to a report Friday in the New York Times.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. April 18, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday April 18, 2005 Home Edition California Part B Page 12 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Courts -- An April 10 editorial on attacks against the judicial system included Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) as a sponsor of a measure to restrict federal courts. Though he was an original sponsor, he is now retired.

He spoke by video to a conference titled “Confronting the Judicial War on Faith.” Its sponsor was the Traditional Values Coalition, social-issue reactionaries who back legislation to restrict federal courts from ruling on anything involving God or basing any rulings on the precedents of foreign courts (for instance, in death penalty cases). Its so-called Constitutional Restoration Act is sponsored in Congress by Sens. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), Zell Miller (D-Ga.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Reps. Robert B. Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.).

DeLay had previously threatened individual retaliation against the judges who resisted his anti-constitutional efforts to push the Terri Schiavo feeding tube case into the federal courts.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) went completely over the edge last week, appearing to justify recent violence against judges by noting that frustration against perceived “political decisions” by judges “builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence.” His dangerously absurd assertion ignores the fact that the recent attacks came from individuals angry at judges they appeared before, not political opponents.

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Some Republicans, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), have distanced themselves from these comments, albeit belatedly. A better demonstration of their distaste for this incendiary rhetoric would be to oppose the still-pending punitive bills.

Judicial independence is one of this nation’s distinguishing traits and a hallmark of our constitutional scheme. To endure, our democracy requires that legislators respect the independence of the judiciary, even when it comes to decisions they don’t like.

Judges from across California planned to gather tonight at downtown’s Millennium Biltmore Hotel for the 100th anniversary of the state’s appellate courts. What they celebrate is the separation of powers that DeLay and friends want to smash.

In 1904, when a state referendum created the Courts of Appeal, voters had the good sense to insulate judges from potential demagogues. But the attacks on the federal courts, and on the independence of all judges, may have tonight’s celebrants wondering if state courts will last intact for another 100 years.


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