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Blomquist: Valuing Our Judiciary

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blomquist-ibaI am writing this President’s column in San Francisco at a meeting of the National Conference of Bar Presidents. Yes, there is an association of us, frightening though that may seem, yet I unapologetically say it is a good thing. This association helps bar leaders and executives analyze and confront the unique challenges we have as our legal worlds collide, whether it be defining (and paying for) the ideal legal education in 2013, triaging the challenges of our underfunded courts, the changing professional landscape for today’s (and tomorrow’s) practitioners or the very real access to justice issues apparent by the increasing percentage of individuals and businesses who just cannot afford to hire a lawyer anymore to solve their problems.

For example: one panel I attended at this conference was about the continued politicizing of the judiciary in this country and the literal backlash against judicial officers because of the decisions they make. As if judges’ interpretations of the law should be subject to political approval; as if their jobs depended on their towing the party line.

Lest you think this is not possible, think again. In 2009, a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court struck down that state’s law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples only.1 Subsequently in 2010, three of those justices up for retention were defeated – the result of an unprecedented attack on the merit selection process saying it is wholly undemocratic, and that judges’ legal opinions should mirror the opinions of the general public. Regardless of what you think of the issue of same sex marriage, to me it is abhorrent that our judicial officers can literally be removed from the bench because their interpretation of the law is not in alignment with prevailing public opinion.

This is not just an issue in Iowa. At least nine other states including Indiana have considered measures in their most recent legislative sessions that would significantly modify or even eliminate the “merit” selection system as it stands, resigning judicial selection to political influence over qualifications.

However, here in Indianapolis at the IndyBar, we are staying the course and not wavering from our longstanding position in favor of merit selection. We will continue to support our members on the bench by responding to unfair judicial criticism. Likewise, we support limits on political contributions and a transparency in reporting. We oppose slating fees that give the appearance of impropriety and subsequently put our judges unnecessarily at risk.

As recently as last month, the full IndyBar Board of Directors approved the proposed Model Rule Guidelines which were formulated by the Attorneys for an Independent Bench (AIB) Committee earlier this summer under the superb leadership of AIB Committee Co-Chairs and Past Presidents John Kautzman and Kevin McGoff. Visit www.indybar.org to view the proposed guidelines.

This Bar will continue to serve its members, who in overwhelming numbers support Merit Selection and the Rule of Law unfettered by political persuasion. As Alexander Hamilton outlined in the Federalist Papers, it is the judiciary’s unique power to be able to render government action unconstitutional, even if it may be popular. Absent this power of independence, there are no sufficient checks and balances against unconstitutional government action. Absent this power of independence, judges are just politicians in black robes.•

1 Varnum v. Brien
 

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  1. The $320,000 is the amount the school spent in litigating two lawsuits: One to release the report involving John Trimble (as noted in the story above) and one defending the discrimination lawsuit. The story above does not mention the amount spent to defend the discrimination suit, that's why the numbers don't match. Thanks for reading.

  2. $160k? Yesterday the figure was $320k. Which is it Indiana Lawyer. And even more interesting, which well connected law firm got the (I am guessing) $320k, six time was the fired chancellor received. LOL. (From yesterday's story, which I guess we were expected to forget overnight ... "According to records obtained by the Journal & Courier, Purdue spent $161,812, beginning in July 2012, in a state open records lawsuit and $168,312, beginning in April 2013, for defense in a federal lawsuit. Much of those fees were spent battling court orders to release an independent investigation by attorney John Trimble that found Purdue could have handled the forced retirement better")

  3. The numbers are harsh; 66 - 24 in the House, 40 - 10 in the Senate. And it is an idea pushed by the Democrats. Dead end? Ummm not necessarily. Just need to go big rather than go home. Nuclear option. Give it to the federal courts, the federal courts will ram this down our throats. Like that other invented right of the modern age, feticide. Rights too precious to be held up by 2000 years of civilization hang in the balance. Onward!

  4. I'm currently seeing someone who has a charge of child pornography possession, he didn't know he had it because it was attached to a music video file he downloaded when he was 19/20 yrs old and fought it for years until he couldn't handle it and plead guilty of possession. He's been convicted in Illinois and now lives in Indiana. Wouldn't it be better to give them a chance to prove to the community and their families that they pose no threat? He's so young and now because he was being a kid and downloaded music at a younger age, he has to pay for it the rest of his life? It's unfair, he can't live a normal life, and has to live in fear of what people can say and do to him because of something that happened 10 years ago? No one deserves that, and no one deserves to be labeled for one mistake, he got labeled even though there was no intent to obtain and use the said content. It makes me so sad to see someone I love go through this and it makes me holds me back a lot because I don't know how people around me will accept him...second chances should be given to those under the age of 21 at least so they can be given a chance to live a normal life as a productive member of society.

  5. It's just an ill considered remark. The Sup Ct is inherently political, as it is a core part of government, and Marbury V Madison guaranteed that it would become ever more so Supremely thus. So her remark is meaningless and she just should have not made it.... what she could have said is that Congress is a bunch of lazys and cowards who wont do their jobs so the hard work of making laws clear, oftentimes stops with the Sups sorting things out that could have been resolved by more competent legislation. That would have been a more worthwhile remark and maybe would have had some relevance to what voters do, since voters cant affect who gets appointed to the supremely un-democratic art III courts.

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