Bar Seeks Legislation to Restore Judiciary Immunity

Article excerpt

The American Bar Association (ABA) has urged Congress to enact legislation that would restore judiciary immunity as a way to "preserve the fearless sense of independence which is so vital to the judicial function."

Speaking to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Courts and Administrative Practice recently, Joseph Weisberger, a justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, said the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Pulliam v. Allen, poses a grave threat to judicial independence because it subjects judicial officers to suits for injunctive relief.

"Essentially," he said, "the freedom and liberty of all citizens of the United States depend upon a strong, alert and independent judiciary which will vindicate the rights of citizens without fear or favor."

Weisberger also said an independent judiciary has "largely been the secret weapon which has made our two centuries of ordered liberty under the Constitution of the United States a reality as opposed to abstract theory.

"And in spite of four centuries of unbroken precedent in support of judicial immunity from suit for an act committed within a judge's judicial capacity and not clearly in excess of jurisdiction, the highest court of this land held for the first time in 1984 that a judicial officer might be subjected to a suit for injunctive relief and that an attendant counsel fee might be awarded to the prevailing plaintiff."

Weisberger urged Congress to support legislation that would prohibit the award of injunctive relief unless a declaratory judgment was ignored, violated or unavailable, and prohibit the award of counsel fees against any judicial officer for an act committed in his or her capacity as a judicial officer and that was not clearly in excess of one's jurisdiction. …