Detailing the attacks on state and federal courts, the president of the National Center for State Courts said opposition groups were trying to strike at the foundation of the judiciary and admonished the legal community to defend judicial independence.
“Courts were and are important because they are expected to resolve disputes impartially according to the law,” Mary McQueen said. “Judges need independence, not for their own sake, but because it’s essential to the protection of public liberty and a judiciary who decides cases based on the law alone. Judicial independence secures those legal rights.”
McQueen was the keynote speaker at the Indiana State Bar Association’s Summit on Judicial Independence, Impartiality and Access held in Indianapolis Friday.
The afternoon event also featured two separate panel discussions on judicial independence. The first panel, which included Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, gave the judge’s viewpoint while the second panel gave the lawyer’s viewpoint.
McQueen noted courts are under attack through state legislatures’ attempts to either add or reduce the number of judges. Also, the legislatures use the budgetary process to pressure and punish courts for unfavorable opinions.
Lawyers and judges can counter the attacks, she said, by using personal and professional opportunities to educate the public about the judiciary’s role in protecting constitutional rights of property, family and freedom. When the legal professional hesitates to talk about accountability, “court bashers” take that opening to assert judges impose their own political views instead of following the law.
McQueen pointed that studies have shown Americans value judicial independence. When the courts come under attack, individuals across the political spectrum will reject attempts to tamper with the judiciary.
However, another way that special interest groups and partisan politicians try to shape the bench is through the judicial election or selection process. McQueen advocated for either lifetime appointments or long terms to give judges the ability to remain independent.
Quoting the founding father Alexander Hamilton, McQueen said, “Permanency in office is indispensable to judicial independence.”
McQueen concluded her remarks by encouraging the “defenders of judicial independence” to focus on the core message that fair and impartial courts protect rights and ensure equal justice for all.