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April 14, 2005

John, meet Alexander

Casey Doherty

      John Cornyn, a Senator from Texas, recently said: "We have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country...and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception...[that] judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public; that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people...engage in violence—certainly without any justification, but [this is] a concern that I have."

      So Mr. Cornyn is saying that those who commit crimes against judges are vigilantes expressing their anger about one of our branches of government encroaching upon another? A romantic notion, indeed, but I hardly believe that those who commit violent crimes inside of courtrooms are upset about the Constitutional separation of powers.

      It seems as though courtroom murderers, such as Brian Nichols, are indeed mad at the courts—but largely due to the fact that the courts found them guilty of crimes and sent them to jail. Although it is not known whether Brian Nichols possesses a hatred aimed at those under 18 years of age, it is highly doubtful that he was sending out his warning to the then pending case concerning the legality of executing minors.

      Cornyn's comment was most likely off-the-cuff and misguided, but it portrays a current goal of many to curb the power of the judiciary. Judges have overturned legislative practices that they deem unconstitutional, and this has been part of the American system since the case of Marbury vs. Madison.

      In Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton writes, "The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body." The Federalist Papers are not legally binding but bear much weight in American government today, as they were used to justify and explain the current Constitution of the United States. Cornyn should read over the Federalist Papers, because he has a lot more to learn from Hamilton than Hamilton has to learn from him.

      The American court system is not a democratic one, but its unaccountable nature—except in the face of certain bad behavior, such as corruption or crime—is not a bad thing. In Federalist No. 78, Hamilton again writes, "If, then, the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judicial offices, since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty," (emphasis added).

      Judges must not be politically accountable to the bullying of politicians like Cornyn, lest they lose their identity as a separate and independent branch of government.

      Cornyn is precisely the type of politician that Hamilton and his peers anticipated. Hamilton and the other framers of the Constitution intended the judiciary to check the legislative branch if it betrayed common sense or encroached upon the rights of minorities. Cornyn needs to read up on historical documents before he runs his mouth in the Senate Chamber again.

Front Page (April 14, 2005)

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