Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Should Congress Supervise Judges?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Should Congress Supervise Judges?

Article excerpt

America's greatest single contribution to political theory has been the idea of rights written into a constitution and protected by independent judges. It has been copied around the world, from Europe to South Africa.

As the Framers of our Constitution saw it, life tenure was crucial to the idea. Nothing else "will contribute so much," Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, to the "independent spirit in the judges" that would enable them to stand against the "ill humors" of passing political majorities.

Anyone who doubts the wisdom of Hamilton and his colleagues should take a look at the views of a current politician who wants to subject judges to the supervision of Congress. He is Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the House majority whip. DeLay has been urging Congress to consider impeaching federal judges whose decisions he dislikes. Facing much criticism for that notion, he has now defended his position in a letter published in The New York Times. Chief Justice John Marshall was on his side, DeLay suggested. He quoted Marshall as saying: "The present doctrine seems to be that a judge giving a legal opinion contrary to the opinion of the legislature is liable to impeachment." Marshall did make such a statement, but he did not make it approvingly. He was writing in 1805 to his Supreme Court colleague Samuel Chase about an attempt by congressmen critical of Chase's decisions to remove him from the bench. Marshall strongly opposed that effort as a threat to judicial independence. The attack on Chase failed in Congress. The present chief justice, William Rehnquist, has written that that failure "assured the independence of federal judges from congressional oversight of the decisions they made." Next, in his letter, DeLay cited a statement made by then-Rep. Gerald Ford in 1970 in proposing the impeachment of Justice William O. Douglas: "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history. …

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