Recently in California, Voices Against Recall took on the task of tracking and participating in voter initiatives that would restore the executive branch’s ability to act in the best interests of the people. The state of California is being divided into six districts: Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. The lawyers for the recall effort are seeking to disqualify any judges who might try to continue the reign of an unfit President. In other words, they are accusing the Obama Administration of trying to “wipe away” the last vestiges of a Constitutional amendment process. If they succeed, they will have won, which means that no one will be able to get a judge dismissed for misconduct. The lawyers argue that there is ample evidence to show that the Obama Administration has not been honest with the American people about the extent of its federal stimulus efforts.
What does this mean to anyone who is worried about judicial independence? Well, it means that there can be no fair trial when judges are selected by political party insiders at the expense of the people. Further, it means that a single sentencing decision can go in the wrong hands and a sentence can be far more severe than it should be. That is a very potent argument, and it has legal justifications that are all legitimate. It is important to remember, however, that a single sentencing decision can go awfully wrong, and that such a result can threaten the very existence of democracy.
Some citizens are worried about the possibility of Judges being too influenced by their political handlers. If the recall election goes ahead, they believe, there will be a takeover by radical fringe elements. This would mean a judges who are willing to rubber stamp whatever the radicals want. Such a turn will have terrible consequences for California law, and the lives of its citizens. It is a frightening scenario, and it must be viewed through the proper legal spectacles.
Some say that there is no legitimate concern about judges becoming too political. That may be true, but what if a judge is doing her best to ensure that a repeat of the same crime does not occur? For instance, if she allows a convicted thief to be free to attend college on the day of a Recall election, she will have made a political error, no matter how correct she might be in her assessment of the criminal act. A judge cannot be trusted to be an apologist for a crime she personally presided over. Further, such a judge would clearly be incapable of impartiality, as she will be working almost exclusively with the lawyers who will be winning the recall election.
Is this an over-the-top fear? Absolutely not. It is possible that a single sentencing decision made by a duly elected judge poses a real threat to the liberty of the citizens of California. It is also perfectly understandable to be concerned about such a threat when the legislature is itself busy passing bills that will impose gag orders on law enforcement officials and prevent them from telling the public anything about the use of torture in police custody. This is hardly surprising.
At the same time, we ought to remember that there are many safeguards against tyranny and excessive power exercised by judges, including the ability of courts to refuse to give certifications to the President, and the ability of judges to refuse to issue opinions that the majority dislikes. Those who want judges to have more power, whether they like it or not, need to come to terms with that reality. The best way to do that is to make sure that their wishes are heard by voters during the next Recall Election.