The Gatekeepers: Federal District Courts in the Political Process

By Kevin L. Lyles | Go to book overview

issues.


A FINAL WORD

My study focuses attention on the nature and role of federal district courts in American politics and society. It suggests vividly the increasing importance and potential of these courts in the formulation and implementation of public policy. In particular, this study shows, for example, that presidents who have achieved much success in particular policy areas are those who expressed clear policy preferences on specific issues and actively recruited judges who share those views. As a result, the overall role and authority of our federal district courts, when exercised by judges so selected, point up clearly the potential presidents have to use the judiciary in attempts to promote and achieve their policy objectives.

Moreover, this analysis underscores the reality that judges, however selected, are clearly involved in interest conflict and are thus part of the political process and group struggle, not by choice but by function. It becomes important then, as this study suggests, to consider the judicial values and perspectives shared among and between judges of different racial backgrounds, as well as differences between male and female judges. These factors might well determine policy outcomes in judicial decision making

Finally, this volume indicates clearly that although the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton (first term) administrations have ended, because of the systemic nature of judicial policymaking and the life tenure of judicial appointments, the impact of judges appointed by these presidents will undoubtedly be felt well into the next century. Thus, judicial scholars, as well as those writing about the American policymaking process generally, would do well to include increased attention to the federal district courts as key actors--gatekeepers--in the political- legal process. In large measure, they do indeed determine what comes into and what gets out of the federal judicial system.


NOTES
1.
Jack Peltason, Federal Courts in the Political Process ( Garden City, NY: Double- day, 1955), p. 3.
2.
William Bradford Reynolds, "Adjudication as Politics by Other Means: The Corruption of the Senate's and Consent Function in Judicial Confirmations," in Henry J. Abraham, with Griffin B. Bell, Charles E. Grassley, Eugene W. Hickok Jr., John W. Kern III , Stephen J. Markman, and William Bradford Reynolds, eds., Judicial Selection: Merit, Ideology, and Politics ( Washington, DC: National Legal Center for the Public Interest, 1990), p. 22.
3.
The notion of "mechanical jurisprudence" was developed some time ago and should be attributed to C. Herman Pritchett, "The Development of Judicial Research," in Joel B. Grossman and Joseph Tanenhaus, eds., Frontiers of Judicial Research ( New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1969), pp. 27-33.

-274-

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