A Critical Year for Our Courts

By Webster, Peter D. | Judicature, January/February 2012 | Go to article overview

A Critical Year for Our Courts


Webster, Peter D., Judicature


In my first President's Report (95 Judicature 57 (2011)), I said that "2012 [wa]s shaping up as a critical year for those of us who recognize the importance of fair and impartial courts and worry about the effect of . . . assaults on the integrity of our system of justice." Echoing that sentiment, an article in the January 2012 issue of the ABA Journal states that "Legislators are out to take over their state judiciary systems." (John Gibeaut, "Co-Equal Opportunity," ABA Journal at 45 (Jan. 2012)). Indeed, the editorial in this issue of Judicature focuses on current assaults on both federal and state courts and the threats they pose to judicial independence, noting that, while politically motivated attacks on the judiciary have been around since the beginning of our country, "the latest salvos . . . have increased the rhetorical heat to an alarming degree."

The year has just begun yet, already, things are heating up in legislatures around the country. A Virginia House bill would prohibit any court or administrative agency from applying the law of any jurisdiction outside the United States and its territories unless required by state or federal law or constitution. In Missouri, a constitutional amendment is being proposed that would require courts to interpret the United States Constitution based on its language and the intent of the signers, and prohibit enforcement of any federal law, executive order or judicial or administrative ruling that exceeds the limited powers enumerated in the Constitution and delegated to the federal government. House bills filed in Vermont and New Hampshire would require courts to instruct juries regarding jury nullification. A Tennessee Senate bill would strip courts in that state of the power to assess the constitutionality of any statute properly enacted by the general assembly, while another proposal in New Hampshire would do the same.

In my home state of Florida, which last year was a leader in the assault on courts, the legislature has only slightly lowered its sights. …

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