Topic: Professions & InstitutionsSociety

The Judiciary
(April 2005)

Congress has the Constitutional power to determine the jurisdiction of the Federal Courts. When the GOP dominated 2005 Congress, with the full support of President Bush, decided to grotesquely misuse that power to give the federal courts jurisdiction to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, it assumed that the judges would take the hint: it wanted the case reversed "on the merits," which in this case had less to do with law, precedent and science than religion, politics, and exploitation.

Right up to the U. S. Supreme Court, the federal judges… a district judge, a federal appeals court, and the Supremes…declined the invitation to let the legislative branch of the U.S. government dictate to the judiciary, the one branch that must be independent from manipulation and politics. Had Congress’ ploy worked, the stage would have been set for more incursions on the integrity of the justice system, with Congress tossing cases to the federal courts not because they belong there, but because members and some of their more vocal constituents didn’t like a particular state court decision. To its eternal credit, the federal judiciary stood firm in support of its state court brethren, a decision made easier because there were no legitimate legal issues to appeal in the Schiavo case. But even if there had been, it seems evident that the actions of the federal judges would have been the same.

They took this stand, remember, as judges are being made targets, figuratively and literally. In February, a federal judge’s family members were murdered in her Chicago home; in March, a state judge was shot and killed along with others when a defendant went on a murderous spree in an Atlanta courtroom. Meanwhile, irresponsible national leaders have gone out of their ways to fan the flames of public anger against judges. House GOP leader Tom DeLay alluded darkly to retribution for "the men responsible" for the Schiavo result, and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas implied that the attacks against judges have been brought on by the judges themselves, as frustration against political decisions by "unaccountable" judges "builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence."

Cornyn neglected to mention that people like him and DeLay help make such violence more likely. And more of the same is on the way: both DeLay and Cornyn are likely to be in evidence as the "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith Conference" convenes this week in Washington, D.C.

Sample rhetoric from its promotional material:

"Activist Judges are undermining democracy, devastating
families and assaulting Judeo-Christian morality!


The vitriol and personal attacks hurled at Judge Greer, the Florida state judge who has overseen the Schiavo case, have certainly courted violence. Greer, once regarded as having impeccable credentials as a conservative, has been accused of having a "vendetta" against the helpless woman and "wanting her dead," and these sorts of inflammatory comments have issued from the well-broadcast mouths of commentators like Joe Scarborough and Michael Savage. As a result, Judge Greer has been the target of death threats, and was even thrown out of his Baptist church for doing what it is a judge’s job to do: apply the law. When he refused to honor Congress’ disgracefully dishonest subpoena of Terri Schiavo ( a woman who has not communicated with anyone in 15 years) as a "witness" before Congressional committees, Scarborough, Pat Buchanan and others railed that Greer was "defying" Congressional authority. What he was in fact doing is protecting the integrity of the U.S. Government by ignoring a blatant misuse of process.

DeLay has fulminated that the courts "thumbed their noses" at Congress in the Schiavo matter. Indeed they did. Seldom since a Cro-Magnon man fashioned the first spear have thumbs been put to better use.

Indeed, all of the judges involved in the Terri Schiavo mess rose to heroic stature by recognizing what the Congressional majority and the President seemingly could not grasp. The independence of the judiciary is essential to preserving the rule of law, and destroying the integrity of the judicial system for the benefit of one woman is dangerous and unwise whether one agrees with the decisions of Judge Greer or not.

When our system of laws and justice was under attack, the judiciary took a principled stand. With more such battles undoubtedly looming ahead, America should be grateful that it has judges with their ethical values well-ordered, and the courage to do what is best for the country.

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