How to Defend the Courts

Judicature, January/February 2006 | Go to article overview

How to Defend the Courts


The Justice at Stake Campaign has prepared a handbook outlining communication strategies for those defending the judiciary in the debate over maintaining fair, impartial, and accountable courts. In 2005 a public opinion research firm canvassed Americans' attitudes towards the courts during a time of increasingly virulent attacks on the judiciary by politicians and special interest groups. The 22-page handbook, Speak to American Values: A Handbook for Fair and Impartial Courts, is based on the results. It includes the survey findings, talking points on key findings, suggested vocabulary to use and to avoid, a sample letter to the editor, and a sample op-ed piece.

Four key findings from the research are discussed, followed by talking points on each:

1. Values matter.

When critics paint "strong courts as the enemy of mainstream values," the proper response is to focus on the courts' role of defender of individual rights and promoter of access to justice. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed strongly agreed, and ten percent somewhat agreed, that "We need strong courts that are free from political influence."

2. Americans need to be reminded of political threats to independent courts.

Conceding that "a purely positive message can't carry the debate by itself," the handbook sanctions taking the offensive because "Americans are offended when they hear that legislators want to weaken the power of our courts to protect individual rights, or deny someone their day in court."

3. Talk about courts being accountable to the Constitution and the law, not to politicians and special interests.

We must defend the courts on the grounds they are accountable by defining "accountability" in terms of following the Constitution and Bill of Rights and not bowing to pressure from politicians or special interests. …

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