Republican Gov Candidates Threaten Judicial Independence

At a state GOP gubernatorial candidate forum last night, several candidates made ominous statements about how they view the judicial renomination process.  Judges are appointed for eight year terms in Connecticut.  But there is a rebuttable presumption that they will be reappointed when their terms expire, barring serious ethical, criminal, or judicial temperament concerns.

Several candidates want to change that process.  They want to look at a nominee’s judicial decisions to determine whether they reveal the judge to be an “activist.”  According to an article in the CT Mirror, here’s what some candidates said:

Immigration lawyer Peter Lumaj said he would not renominate anyone who is an activist judge who “wants to legislate from the bench.”

Dave Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general, said, “We need to determine if they are an activist judge or not,”.

Rep. Prasad Srinivasan said no nomination should be automatic. “It is going to be on the performance on the bench and the track record that he or she has left behind,” Srinivasan said. “Judges are there for a very long time and we have to be extremely careful as to who we appoint and equally important who we reappoint.”

These are very dangerous ideas that will threaten judicial independence if implemented.  The term “activist judge” is just another way of saying, “a judge whose decisions I don’t like.”  For conservatives, judges with a liberal bent are deemed “activist” judges.  But for liberals, judges with a conservative bent, particularly some on the U.S. Supreme Court, who routinely disregard stare decisis and overrule longstanding decisions that don’t comport with their own conservative political ideology, are judicial activists too.

I, for one, think that a review of a judge’s decisions is both necessary and appropriate during a renomination process.  But unless that review conclusively demonstrates that a judge has repeatedly disregarded long-settled judicial norms when adjudicating cases, or unless the judge has serious ethical, criminal or judicial temperament issues, the judge should be reappointed.

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