|As lawyers and officers of the courts, we have a professional obligation
to make certain our courts function as they should. We also have an obligation to educate
those not associated with the justice system about the proper function of the courts.
we fulfill this obligation, we do it in the best interest of our country, the best
interest of our citizens and the best interest of those of us who have devoted our
professional lives to the law.
With that in mind, I urge state, local and territorial bar associations to formulate
plans to respond to inappropriate and unfair attacks on judges.
Last year at the American Bar Association mid-year meeting in Nashville, the House of
Delegates adopted a policy encouraging local, state and territorial bars to adopt programs
to present timely, effective responses to unfair attacks on judges. Subsequently, the ABA
Judicial Division Lawyers Conference and the Special Committee on Judicial Independence
issued Response to Criticism of Judges, a handy pamphlet designed to serve as a guide in
defending members of the judiciary who cannot defend themselves because of ethical
We do not intend to stifle dialogue about court decisions, legal issues or policy
development. We recognize the importance of informed discussion in our system of
judges increasingly have been subjected to attacks motivated by narrow special interests,
which leads to misinformation or intimidation.
It is these unfair attacks against which the bar must rally. Judges always have been
subjected to criticism because it is their constitutional obligation to decide difficult,
controversial and unpopular cases. However, some of the recent attacks fall into the
category of unfairness and must not go unanswered.
It is not just a local or regional problem. If confidence in the judiciary erodes at
any level, the entire judiciary is affected. A 1997 ABA report of the Commission on
Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence observed: "Judicial independence is
not a talismanic slogan to be invoked whenever judges or the judiciary are criticized; in
fact, there are few agreed-upon bright lines that define a trespass on such independence.
However, the concept is so vital to our constitutional form of government that any
developing series of events that may undermine the concept should be examined and
Some state, local and territorial bars are establishing policy which includes
rapid-response teams to address these attacks.
The ABA Special Committee on Judicial Independence is encouraged that the bars are
moving in this direction.
The committee would like to extend a hand to bars in these efforts by acting as a
clearinghouse for information addressing problem areas, providing support and direction
and targeting some specific areas for intensive committee action.
Alfred P. Carlton Jr. is chair of the ABA
Special Committee on Judicial Independence. For more details on the committee's work,
visit the ABA web site at www.abanet.org/jd/.