Friday, January 07, 2005

Rhenquist calls "Judicial Activist" label "preposterous"

Judicial Activism Only Damages Legal System

Add Chief Justice William Rehnquist to the growing list of those who fear that the all-too-frequent cries of "judicial activism" damage the U.S. court system.

In his annual report last week, the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice cautioned lawmakers against trampling on judicial independence -- not because judges need protection but "to promote the rule of law" necessary for an orderly society. Lawmakers should neither shorten federal judges' lifetime appointments nor threaten judges with impeachment simply because they believe court decisions do not always reflect popular sentiment. Calling judges "activists" simply because they don't hew to a particular group's will is unproductive and generally inaccurate. Judges are not supposed to bend to the vagaries of social movements but uphold the law and the Constitution.

Rehnquist, who believes in the strictest interpretation of that sacred document, is no bleeding heart. So his report should remind Congress that judges schooled in the Constitution and other aspects of the law are uniquely positioned to rule on their applications. Lifetime appointments are intended to insulate judges from the kinds of criticisms that have become rampant of late explicitly so they are not tempted, for the sake of preserving their posts, to rule the way the public wills instead of as the law dictates.

"It is not a perfect system," the chief wrote. "Vacancies do not occur on regular schedules, and judges do not always decide cases the way their appointers might have anticipated. But for over 200 years it has served our democracy well and ensured a commitment to the rule of law."

Yet this year, Congress has passed laws that ban judicial review of their constitutionality; Republican House leader Tom DeLay has threatened to impeach judges whose decisions he detests; and the "judicial activism" label has been thrown around wildly by cultural conservatives, including President George W. Bush.

These preposterous attacks hurt a justice system that requires public confidence to work.