To the Editor:
U.S. House majority whip Tom DeLay is threatening to start impeachment proceedings against federal judges because he and other members of Congress disagree with their judicial decisions. This is a bad idea.
The United States Constitution is the source of authority that defines impeachable conduct. It states that Congress has the power to remove federal judges for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” In more than 200 years, no federal judge has been impeached for making unpopular decisions.
The use or threatened use of impeachment as a way to express disagreement with a particular decision is wrong and is an abuse of power. The powers of our three branches of government are restrained through a constitutionally imposed system of checks and balances. These checks and balances ensure that no branch can exert undue influence over the others.
Independent Judiciary Needed
There will always be federal judges who make decisions that displease various factions. There always has been. That is the price we pay for relying on an independent judiciary to make decisions based on the law and the facts and merits of the cases before them.
An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of our constitutional system of government. The judiciary is charged with guarding the Constitution and protecting the fundamental rights of every citizen. The concept of an independent judiciary was so essential that our founding fathers sought to protect our federal judges from political reprisals for unpopular decisions by giving them life tenure and a guarantee of no reduction in pay during their continuance in office.
To protect the rights of all of our citizens, judges must be beholden to no one. Judges must perform their duties impartially, diligently, and make decisions based on the facts of the case, applying the law evenhandedly, without regard to popular public sentiment or public pressure.
I would not, for a second, want a judiciary that factors polls and political expedience into its decisions, and I do not believe that the way to protect our freedoms is to put the federal judiciary under the thumb of Congress.
Charles A. Weiss, President
The Missouri Bar