Recent comments by Gov. Gray Davis undermining the California
judiciary at all levels deserve scrutiny by Californias lawyers, and by lawyers
everywhere, who value judicial independence.
Davis, at a recent breakfast with California reporters based in
Washington, D.C., stated that judges he appoints at all levels in California should
remember who appointed them. He even said their decisions should reflect his policies, and
if his judicial appointees cannot do that, they should resign.
All my appointees, including judges, have to, more or less,
reflect the views Ive expressed in my election, otherwise democracy doesnt
work, he told reporters.
Gov. Davis is plain wrong on this issue. This is exactly how a
democracy does not operate.
At the heart of our democratic system of government is the concept of
three branches of government, each separate but equal. That tripartite system serves as a
shining model now being emulated by emerging democracies the world over.
The separation of powers, as every school child knows, insures that
one branch of government will not hold sway over another. This system guarantees the
promise of the United States Constitution to all living within our country. It should be
cherished and guarded fearlessly from all who would erode it.
When our countrys founders invented the three branches of
government, they realized that the judicial branch was the weakest because it had neither
the power of the purse nor the power of the military. However, the founders knew that the
power of the judicial branch lies in the trust and faith of the citizenry.
Judges hear thousands of cases every year, impartially guided by the
rule of law. Countless citizens depend on this impartiality to resolve their disputes in
the courtroom, as do the lawyers who appear before judges.
For a democracy to work, judges must be independent from any other
branch of government. Those appearing before a judge in California, or elsewhere in our
country, should have the confidence that the court will make fair and impartial decisions
based on the law and the merits of the individual case.
California judges should not take into consideration the whims of the
day or look over their shoulder, fearful that a decision might lose them their job.
For more than two centuries, the separation of powers has worked to
protect and defend freedom in our nation. Our progress as a society often has been forged
by a judiciary free from partisan politics a judiciary acting on the basis of what
is right and just, not what is popular. The courageous rulings of federal judges in civil
rights cases in the 60s provide clear examples.
Gov. Davis needs to reconsider his position on Californias
judges. They are neither his puppets nor his pawns.
When there are unreasonable challenges to judges, it behooves the
legal community to protect the independence of the courts.
Without an independent judiciary, our nation, and California, will be
less than its constitutional promise and far less than our citizens deserve.
William G. Paul is president
of the American Bar Association.