It should come as no surprise that the federal judiciary is calling for greater security due to threats from people who have been denied Social Security disability benefits.  Dissatisfaction with the judiciary, and resulting threats against judges, their families, and their staffs is a real and growing problem.  The level of dissatisfaction and the related growing level of threats is attributable in large part to the availability of internet websites and blogs that are created and fueled by unhappy litigants.  Even a brief scan of the internet will produce dozens of single issue sites in which writers are encouraging disobedience toward judicial orders and violence against judges. 

Another significant reason for increasing hostility toward judges is unjust criticism from the other branches of government.  Hardly a day passes that a senator, congressman, governor or mayor is not lambasting a judicial opinion on cable news or on the internet.  While freedom of speech certainly gives anyone the right to criticize judicial decisions, the public criticism from elected officials is growing increasingly personal, and is frequently uninformed and unsupported by the facts of a particular case.  Judicial ethical canons prohibit judges from reacting to these attacks, so the public usually hears only one side.

Every bar association at every level (including state and local) must give consideration to creating active committees to scrutinize judicial criticism and to react when criticism of judges goes beyond the bounds of fair comment.  These committees should also be actively involved with the Chamber of Commerce, judicial associations, and local subdivisions of government to make certain that our courthouses are safe for the judges, their staffs, and the lawyers and consumers who visit the courts.  If we in the  organized bar do not step up and begin responding to unfair and uninformed criticism of the judiciary, then threats against judges on all levels will continue to escalate, and well-intentioned people will cease to want to work in the judiciary.  More importantly, the public will lose confidence in an important branch of government that relies upon public obedience to its orders.

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While most of the attention of the nation is drawn to the presidential election, there are many states that will be holding elections for their supreme and appellate courts.  Once again, record sums of money are being raised for the support of and opposition to judicial candidates.  Much of that money will be spent on television advertising, and we can expect to see a number of attack ads.

The debate continues to rage as to whether judges should be elected or appointed.  Proponents and critics of both methods of judicial selection can make valid points to support their respective views.  However, no one can dispute that the rise of attack advertising in judicial elections and the growth of special interest spending from all sides of the political spectrum is threatening to seriously erode the public’s confidence in the judiciary.

Full Article

For additional information, please see the DRI Judicial Task Force Report - Without Fear or Favor.pdf (5.42 mb)

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