Saturday, April 09, 2005

Unclear on the concept: the Judiciary Branch

In today's New York Times, there's an article about Tom DeLay and his grandstanding over judges:
Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, escalated his talk of a battle between the legislative and judicial branches of government on Thursday [. . .]. Mr. DeLay faulted courts for what he said was their invention of rights to abortion and prohibitions on school prayer, saying courts had ignored the intent of Congress and improperly cited international standards and precedents. "These are not examples of a mature society," he said, "but of a judiciary run amok."
Now, that's not so surprising, given the escalating rhetoric recently from "the Hammer," as they call him, and from the way-past-mainstream cultural conservatives.

It's bad enough that a vote for F. Jim is a vote to support this kind of extremism in the Republican leadership, but now we're starting to hear it from F. Jim's team themselves. Further down in the NYT article, we get this piece of work:
In an interview, Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the panel was likely in some way to take up the issue of how the federal judges handled Ms. Schiavo's case.

But Mr. Lungren said Mr. DeLay had not requested a hearing and the committee had not decided on a course of action. "There does seem to be this misunderstanding out there that our system was created with a completely independent judiciary," he said.
While it's true that I passed high-school civics, I suppose it's possible that not everybody did. But for Mr. Lungren, I recommend a refresher on one of the most basic, fundamental tenets of U.S. government, that our federal system consists of three separate and independent branches of government.

Moreover, the courts were, in fact, established to help keep in check the excesses of the Congress. I'm no constitutional lawyer, but I can read English, and what Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 78 (my bold, Hamilton's CAPS LOCK):
According to the plan of the convention, all judges who may be appointed by the United States are to hold their offices DURING GOOD BEHAVIOR; which is conformable to the most approved of the State constitutions and among the rest, to that of this State. Its propriety having been drawn into question by the adversaries of that plan, is no light symptom of the rage for objection, which disorders their imaginations and judgments. The standard of good behavior for the continuance in office of the judicial magistracy, is certainly one of the most valuable of the modern improvements in the practice of government. In a monarchy it is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. And it is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws. [. . .]

The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex-post-facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this kind can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing.
I have no doubt that Jeff Lungren was authorized to say what he said to the New York Times, and that his statement accurately reflects the view of F. Jim. In other words, then, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee holds a 180-degree opposite opinion of the role of the judiciary than those who wrote the bloody Constitution! Yes, yes, yes we have an "independent judicary"--if we didn't, Hamilton says, our civil liberties would amount to nothing.

Is that what you want, Mr. Sensenbrenner? A world where our civil liberties amount to nothing?

In fact, why don't we ask him: (262) 784-1111 (district office); 1-800-242-1119 (the HOTLINE for those outside of the Milwaukee metro area); (202) 225-5101 (DC office);; or dog him at one of his town meetings. Ask him if he thinks our civil liberties amount to nothing.

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