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   Judgmental: The poisonous cry for judicial impeachment

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6/5/2005 8:00 pm

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Entered 6/6/2005, Updated 6/6/2005

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Outrage over disagreeable judicial decisions — such as those in the Terri Schiavo case — is nothing new. Judges seeking to apply the law properly in a deeply emotional and divisive situation are bound to provoke harsh criticism. The Framers provided for judicial life tenure because they understood that judges must operate in the face of aroused public feelings, such as the Schiavo case. They understood that “judicious conduct,” in the best sense of those words, comes from judges insulated from popular emotions. What DeLay and the others propose is a radical, not a conservative, step. It would put every seat on the federal bench under constant political pressure. The occasional bitter contests we have witnessed over a few judicial appointments would likely become perpetual battles over every federal judgeship. Such a situation could tie the House and Senate in knots after every slight shift in the legislative balance of power. It could dangerously alter the balance of power among the three branches of the federal government. The Constitution wisely makes the impeachment process very difficult. It demands an extraordinary level of political consensus before office-holders can be removed from their positions. By contrast, DeLay’s proposal would stir bitter partisan division and increase the rancor of American politics. Judging from the historical record, very few judges deserve impeachment by the Founders’ standards. The bad idea of mass impeachment of federal judges for ideological reasons is less likely to remove judges than to further poison America’s judicial politics.


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