Wednesday Word of the Week, June 22

22 Jun

Just doing his job.

Today’s word is: JUDGE

someone whose job is to make decisions in a court of law – Macmillan Dictionary Online

Over the past year, we’ve seen some significant attention paid to judges (some of whom, depending on their position, are called justices) in the United States. What is the role of a judge? What should we expect from these arbiters of legal issues? According to the definition, it is their JOB

work that one does regularly to earn money – Macmillan Dictionary Online


a position or opinion or judgment reached after consideration – Macmillan Dictionary Online

We appoint or elect judges to hear evidence, consider it, and make decisions based on law and precedent. This all seems pretty straightforward.

Unfortunately, over the past three decades or so, the far right has infiltrated and attacked the judiciary. Using their typically Orwellian language, they invented the concept of the “activist judge.” Ironically, this only applies to decisions that the right opposes, like gay rights, reproductive rights, or worker protection. When it comes to inventing a corporate right to personhood for election contributions, let irony prevail.

When these efforts to drag the judicial conversation to the right are not sufficiently powerful, the right moves from vague threats and scary language to outright attacks. Witness the sadly successful campaign to remove three Iowa Supreme Court Justices from office because they correctly ruled that equal access under the law required marriage equality. This attack was so loathsome and unprecedented that even conservative jurist Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke out against it. Her argument? We must have an independent judiciary, trusted to carry out their jobs fairly and according to the law, without fear of retribution. This is one of the cornerstones of our representative democracy. I seldom agree with Justice O’Connor, but her consistent, passionate remarks on this subject are exactly right.

Another recent attack was the motion filed in U.S. District Court to vacate the ruling by Judge Walker which invalidated California’s Proposition 8. Supporters of the marriage inequality proposition, irate at having their bigotry overturned, attacked Judge Walker’s objectivity simply because he is gay and in a committed long-term relationship. Teabaggers look the other way when U.S. Supreme Court Justices practice flagrant violations of their own code of ethics or stand to profit directly from their judgments; let an honest gay judge make a fair ruling, however, and the attacks are on!

Fortunately, the judge hearing this absurd motion weighed in heavily against the forces of bigotry. DailyKos provides a great synopsis of the decision. The two key concepts, well worth remembering are that simply being in a class of persons does not require recusal:

Requiring recusal because a court issued an injunction that could provide some speculative future benefit to the presiding judge solely on the basis of the fact that the judge belongs to the class against whom the unconstitutional law was directed would lead to a … standard that required recusal of minority judges in most, if not all, civil rights cases. Congress could not have intended such an unworkable recusal statute.

and that it is absurd to assume that fair treatment under the law only benefits a minority:

To the extent that a law is adjudged violative, enjoining enforcement of that law is a public good that benefits all in our society equally.  Although this case was filed by same-sex couples seeking to end a California constitutional restriction on their right to marry, all Californians have an equal interest in the outcome of the case.

Bravo to Chief Judge Ware for his swift, stern words, emphasizing the role of law and justice. Of course, the attacks are likely to continue. Americans must pay attention, however, and not be swayed by scare tactics, mob mentality, and venal motives. If we aren’t careful, we will become a nation of judges selected by the wealthy and the ignorant, motivated by greed, bias, and fear. These ironic justices would corrupt an already strained system with their very poor

the ability to understand a situation well and make good decisions – Macmillan Dictionary Online


One Response to “Wednesday Word of the Week, June 22”

  1. Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 22, 2011 at 6:03 am #

    Great post, Lex. I think I find this, “If we aren’t careful, we will become a nation of judges selected by the wealthy and the ignorant, motivated by greed, bias, and fear,” to be exceedingly scary, because of how likely it is.

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