May 11, 2018

State judges under political attack

NY Times editorial -Across the country, state judges are under increasing fire from lawmakers and outside groups angered by their rulings, their power, their tenure or simply their independence. That independence is, of course, central to the separation of powers, which defines American government, and to the legitimacy of the judicial branch in the eyes of the public. Going after judges for partisan reasons may not be a particularly new pastime, but it has become more popular as America’s politics have become more polarized and as brute tribal warfare replaces a respect for basic democratic values.

Already in 2018, lawmakers in at least 16 states are considering at least 51 bills that would diminish or politicize the role of the judiciary, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice. Some bills would inject more politics into the judicial selection process, or into court rulings themselves.

... Most if not all of these bills are terrible for the judiciary and harmful to democracy. But even if they don’t become law, the message they send and the publicity they generate can have real consequences. This is especially true for elected judges, who may be more wary of issuing what they perceive to be controversial or unpopular rulings, for fear of blowback. That fear isn’t unfounded. In 2010, three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court lost retention elections the year after they voted to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

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