Monday, April 11, 2005
ABA President, in Speech to Local Legal Community, Urges End to Politicians’ Attacks on Judges
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Political leaders should respect judicial independence and refrain from rhetorical attacks on judges whose decisions they disagree with, the president of the American Bar Association was to tell an audience of lawyers and judges last night.
In remarks prepared for delivery at a downtown Los Angeles dinner marking the 100th anniversary of the California Court of Appeal, Robert J. Grey Jr. said such attacks were “over the top,” and a dangerous symptom of the lack of civility in contemporary public discourse about the role of judges.
“The clamor rising in some quarters for retributive action against judges in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case, and the draconian stance against the judiciary by some of this country’s lawmakers, is dangerous.”
No lawmakers were named in the advance excerpts provided by the ABA. But the remarks seemed clearly aimed at Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the House majority leader who has often criticized the judiciary and has become particularly vocal in the aftermath of the Schiavo case.
The New York Times Friday reported that DeLay had delivered a videotaped address to a conference of conservative activists on “Confronting the Judicial War on Faith.” DeLay said federal courts had “run amok” and suggested that “congressional cowardice” had allowed that to happen, according to the Times.
The newspaper also quoted Michael Schwartz, chief of staff to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., as saying “mass impeachment” of judges might be needed.
Such “verbal assaults” are uncalled for, Grey, a Richmond, Va., attorney, was to tell his audience last night.
“Regardless of how one feels about the specific circumstances of the Schiavo—or any-case,” Grey said, “the role of the judiciary is clear.
“Federal and state judges are charged with weighing the facts of a case and following the remedies set forth in the law, responsibilities they carry out valiantly and with great dignity and sensitivity.”
Grey said that, while the judiciary, like any other branch of government, is not immune from criticism, recent barbs have crossed the line and threaten the independence of the judiciary.
“Without our justice system, without jurors, without our judges, the much touted but little understood organizational principle of our democratic government—separation of powers—could not exist,” he said. “An independent judiciary—one free of intimidation and manipulation—is essential to our government of separate but equal branches, where cooperation and respect among the branches is vital.”
Grey also cited the increased personalization and politicization of judicial election campaigns in many states, bitter partisanship over nominations to the federal bench, and the vitriolic attacks on allegedly “activist” judges that have become a staple of talk radio.
Grey said the time has come to change this environment.
“We must address the current atmosphere in which our courts operate—whether state or federal—and what can only be called a decline in civility and respect toward our justice system,” he commented. “Our worsening atmosphere is as deadly a weapon against an independent judiciary as is any individual assailant, and carries with it the potential to do greater harm because it uses stealth, not blunt force, to achieve its goals.”
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company