The Gatekeepers: Federal District Courts in the Political Process

By Kevin L. Lyles | Go to book overview

1 Introduction: Federal District Courts in the Political Process

Through his judicial appointments, a President has the opportunity to influence the course of national affairs for a quarter of a century after he leaves office. . . . [I]t is necessary to remember that the decision as to who will make the decisions affects what decisions will be made. . . . [T]he president [can] establish precise guidelines as to the type of man [sic] he wishes to appoint--his professional competence, his political disposition, his understanding of the judicial function--and establish a White House review procedure to assure that each prospective nominee recommended by the Attorney General meets his guidelines. . . . He [the president] may insist that some evidence exists as to the attitude of the prospective judge toward the role of the court. He may insist upon a man who has a passion for judicial restraint. . . . The criteria he can establish are as varied as the views held in different political, social, and legal circles today. But if he establishes his criteria and establishes his machinery for insuring that the criteria are met, the appointments he makes will be his, in fact, as in theory. 1


INTRODUCTION

My focus on the role and function of the federal district courts is at bottom a study of the interaction of law and politics in our constitutional governing system. As so many have said regarding the institutional role and function of the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal district courts too are at once political and legal institutions. Both political scientists and lawyers alike would agree that given the dual nature of these lower federal courts, a better understanding of their operation and function in, as well as their impact on, the political system is appropriate. This is not an attempt to over-politicize the district courts. Clearly, as legal institutions the majority of their work is constrained by legal rules and procedures. Nonetheless, the frequency and salience of district court policymaking, their gatekeeping role in the federal judiciary, the characteristics and

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