Letter From The President Of The New Jersey State Bar Association

2005-07-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel :

As Americans, we take great pride in being a nation with traditions, traditions that we venerate because they reflect values we as a nation hold sacred. Central to our political tradition is the independence of the judiciary, a concept enshrined in our Constitution and imbedded in the very structure of our government.

In two remarkable addresses at the New Jersey State Bar Association's Annual Meeting, Chief Justice Deborah Poritz of the New Jersey Supreme Court and Chief Judge John Bissell of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey expressed deep concern over recent events that threatened to severely erode judicial independence. Citing violent assaults against judges and harsh political criticism by some members of Congress, these jurists noted the great difficulties that judges now face in deciding cases, and particularly in rendering unpopular rulings. These attacks, said Chief Justice Poritz, "have the capacity to undermine confidence in the judiciary at every level." Her conclusion sounds a warning not only to lawyers, but also to all reasonable people.

Unfortunately, threats to judicial independence are not new and might themselves constitute an aberrant form of political tradition. That is why the Constitution embodies certain protections for federal judges, such as life tenure, fixed salaries, and a cumbersome process - impeachment - for removal from office. Otherwise, as Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist No. 78, "it would require an uncommon portion of fortitude in the judges to do their duty as faithful guardians of the Constitution, where legislative invasions of it had been instigated by the major voice of the community."

What does it mean to the future stability of the judiciary, and our form of governmental checks and balances, when some congressional leaders level unjust criticisms against individual judges, and justices of the United States Supreme Court, even threatening impeachment to make them answerable to their political will? Who will respond when judges, constrained by ethical rules, cannot do so themselves?

Chief Justice Poritz has called on the organized bar to do so. It is important and essential that we defend the judiciary against unjustified public and political attacks. Now that it appears to be "open season" on the judiciary, the New Jersey State Bar Association urges its members, and the bar in general, to defend judges from the grossly unfair and inflammatory attacks that have made recent headlines. Such attacks, as the Chief Justice noted in her address, are significantly different in character and content from open debate about constitutional values.

I ask the citizens of this state to raise their voices in support of judicial independence as well. The public is ill-served when unfair criticism and fear of reprisal by political forces threatens to unduly influence judicial decision-making. An independent judiciary benefits us all - as individuals, as a state and as a nation - as it has for over 200 years.


Stuart A. Hoberman