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Indiana Judges Association: Legislative gridlock? Let the judges handle it

David J.
March 3, 2010
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Now that Sen. Evan Bayh has apparently adopted the "Bill Polian" approach to political football (rest now for a later challenge), the term "gridlock" is becoming more common than "gridiron." The public spotlight glares even more disapprovingly upon Congress, if that is possible. Recent polls suggest that as much as 86 percent of the public feels Congress is "broken." The remaining 14 percent are presumably members of Congress and their staffs.

Overall, we citizens go about our daily lives oblivious to all this Beltway blustering. We have mortgages, kids, jobs (hopefully), and, most importantly, our local communities. But in the legislative branch, there is often no objective standard for success or failure. There is no practical leverage for legislatures to actually accomplish anything. There is no assembly line, no product orders to fill, no specific job duties to perform.

So when legislative battle lines are drawn, some of us are left wondering what the real reasons are.

Many purportedly wise commentators develop diatribe after diatribe about the lack of civility as the culprit. But if one looks more closely, it seems like there is often too much civility to get anything done. For example, U.S. Senate gridlock is often blamed on the mysterious practice of "holds," in which any senator (even a brand new one) can block or delay any action on a treaty, nomination, or legislation. According to the Library of Congress, no one knows how or when this practice was started, but it is derived from the unwritten tradition of "senatorial courtesy" honored by every president since George Washington.

Well, the "courtesy" every senator enjoys is actually a strategic weapon. One senator recently held up the nominations of dozens of presidential appointees to gain White House attention to award some federal programs to the senator's home state. In the 1990s, there was a two-year battle of holds between opposing senators that blocked such unrelated topics as an incumbent Federal Trade Commission member, two federal judge nominees, and an education bill.

But Congress is hardly alone in its fitful charade. State legislatures all over the country share the same gridlock addiction. During the summer of 2009, the California state budget (eighth largest in the world) faced a catastrophic $27 billion deficit ... and the legislature would not come to an agreement. At the same time, the New York state legislature went into a complete one-month stalemate, even to the point of one party physically locking the other delegation out of the chamber as no action was taken on stacks of bills. Let's not forget the countless times in which our own Indiana General Assembly has been halted by a partisan "walkout" - something we judges call a "failure to appear."

So what to do?

There is one solution that has yet been tried. We judges do not have the luxury of "courtesy" or gridlock. Oh, there is a sure abundance of real civility in our courts, but there is also a bottom line: Get the case decided and move on. The legal system is the lifeblood of solving problems. Indiana annual case filings have reached 2 million, up 33 percent over the last 10 years. Despite increasing caseloads and dwindling resources, Indiana state judges are continuing to meet their obligations year in and year out.

So when legislative gridlock raises it ugly head, why not treat it like any other unsettled legal dispute? Why not let the courts solve it? Just consider:

* We have a proven track record of deciding issues on merits, not politics.

* We are trained in dispute resolution.

* We're on the job all year round.

* There are no vetoes.

* We cannot accept any money, meals, or tickets from anybody for any reason.

* We will not hold press conferences.

* We will not take polls on the issues.
 

Hon. David J. Dreyer has been a judge for the Marion Superior Court since 1997. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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  1. From his recent appearance on WRTV to this story here, Frank is everywhere. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, although he should stop using Eric Schnauffer for his 7th Circuit briefs. They're not THAT hard.

  2. They learn our language prior to coming here. My grandparents who came over on the boat, had to learn English and become familiarize with Americas customs and culture. They are in our land now, speak ENGLISH!!

  3. @ Rebecca D Fell, I am very sorry for your loss. I think it gives the family solace and a bit of closure to go to a road side memorial. Those that oppose them probably did not experience the loss of a child or a loved one.

  4. If it were your child that died maybe you'd be more understanding. Most of us don't have graves to visit. My son was killed on a state road and I will be putting up a memorial where he died. It gives us a sense of peace to be at the location he took his last breath. Some people should be more understanding of that.

  5. Can we please take notice of the connection between the declining state of families across the United States and the RISE OF CPS INVOLVEMENT??? They call themselves "advocates" for "children's rights", however, statistics show those children whom are taken from, even NEGLIGENT homes are LESS likely to become successful, independent adults!!! Not to mention the undeniable lack of respect and lack of responsibility of the children being raised today vs the way we were raised 20 years ago, when families still existed. I was born in 1981 and I didn't even ever hear the term "CPS", in fact, I didn't even know they existed until about ten years ago... Now our children have disagreements between friends and they actually THREATEN EACH OTHER WITH, "I'll call CPS" or "I'll have [my parent] (usually singular) call CPS"!!!! And the truth is, no parent is perfect and we all have flaws and make mistakes, but it is RIGHTFULLY OURS - BY THE CONSTITUTION OF THIS GREAT NATION - to be imperfect. Let's take a good look at what kind of parenting those that are stealing our children are doing, what kind of adults are they producing? WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO THE CHILDREN THAT HAVE BEEN RIPPED FROM THEIR FAMILY AND THAT CHILD'S SUCCESS - or otherwise - AS AN ADULT.....

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