Don’t Slam Gavel on Independence

The judiciary is indispensable to our successful democracy. It is the best antidote to abuse of power even when it is the abuser of power. It is an integral part to separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

The validity of this premise depends upon judicial independence from the majority, as well as the fluctuations of the legislative and executive branches. The judiciary’s mission can be narrowly defined as aligning statutes and government practices with the Constitution. This is essentially the broader policy statement of our nation’s governing principles.

A good example among many is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., when beginning in 1954, the Supreme Court decided a series of cases that stopped the practice of neo-slavery in this country. After 100 years of legislative and executive branch inertia, the 14th Amendment’s “Equal Protection of the Laws” finally brought into practice what Thomas Jefferson pontificated in theory in the Declaration of Independence.

There has always been tension within the separation of powers. Our governor pushed through a bill allowing him to overrule the judicial branch in the Terri Schiavo case. Imagine President Dwight D. Eisenhower pushing through Congress a law empowering him to reverse Brown v. Board of Education. The idea that the judiciary should defer to the legislature breaches the doctrine of separation of powers among three co-equal branches of government.

There are current threats to judicial independence on the horizon.

By withholding full funding for the court system, 1 million criminal cases, 1.2 million civil cases, and a half-million cases involving children, family, and elders (a typical annual disposition) will not be completely handled. Currently, 80 state judicial vacancies are the victims of refusal to fund. Inasmuch as courtrooms are open to the media and public with every word reported by court reporters, the idea of state installed cameras beamed on judges to monitor their conduct is unnecessary and also inimical to an independent judiciary. It might be helpful to lawyers to study the idiosyncrasies of the judges, and by so doing be better able to appeal to their natural instincts. This questionable benefit is outweighed by the detriment.

Two pennies of every Florida tax dollar support the judicial branch of government. Indeed, we get our money’s worth. The money is there if our legislative and executive branches perform their duty to fund it. We must not tolerate any system that abridges the Bill of Rights in favor of economy.

Without an impartial forum to seek a remedy, establish a duty, enforce a right, repair a wrong, and punish an evil, the lower side of human nature will govern, and no law the legislative branch can legislate or the executive branch can execute will restore harmony to that inherent judicial system that resides within every human breast.

My Word
By Russell Troutman
The Orlando Sentinel
Friday April 30, 2004

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