The Judges Made them Do It

  1. The Judges Made Them Do It

    It was appalling when the House majority leader threatened political retribution against judges who did not toe his extremist political line. But when a second important Republican stands up and excuses murderous violence against judges as an understandable reaction to their decisions, then it is time to get really scared.

    It happened on Monday, in a moment that was horrifying even by the rock-bottom standards of the campaign that Republican zealots are conducting against the nation's judiciary. Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, rose in the chamber and dared to argue that recent courthouse violence might be explained by distress about judges who "are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public." The frustration "builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in" violence, said Mr. Cornyn, a former member of the Texas Supreme Court who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which supposedly protects the Constitution and its guarantee of an independent judiciary.

    Listeners could only cringe at the events behind Mr. Cornyn's fulminating: an Atlanta judge was murdered in his courtroom by a career criminal who wanted only to shoot his way out of a trial, and a Chicago judge's mother and husband were executed by a deranged man who was furious that she had dismissed a wild lawsuit. It was sickening that an elected official would publicly offer these sociopaths as examples of any democratic value, let alone as holders of legitimate concerns about the judiciary.

    The need to shield judges from outside threats - including those from elected officials like Senator Cornyn - is a priceless principle of our democracy. Senator Cornyn offered a smarmy proclamation of "great distress" at courthouse thuggery. Then he rationalized it with broadside accusations that judges "make raw political or ideological decisions." He thumbed his nose at the separation of powers, suggesting that the Supreme Court be "an enforcer of political decisions made by elected representatives of the people." Avoiding that nightmare is precisely why the founders made federal judgeships lifetime jobs and created a nomination process that requires presidents to seek bipartisan support.

    Echoes of the political hijacking of the Terri Schiavo case hung in the air as Mr. Cornyn spoke, just days after the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, vengefully vowed that "the time will come" to make the judges who resisted the Congressional Republicans' gruesome deathbed intrusion "answer for their behavior." Trying to intimidate judges used to be a crime, not a bombastic cudgel for cynical politicians.

    The public's hope must be that Senator Cornyn's shameful outburst gives further pause to Senate moderates about the threats of the majority leader, Senator Bill Frist, to scrap the filibuster to ensure the confirmation of President Bush's most extremist judicial nominees. Dr. Frist tried to distance himself yesterday from Mr. DeLay's attack on the judiciary. But Dr. Frist must carry the militants' baggage if he is ever to run for president, and he complained yesterday of "a real fire lighted by Democrats around judges over the last few days."

    By Democrats? The senator should listen to what's being said on his side of the aisle, if he can bear it.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company |
  2. 1 Comments

  3. by   pickledpepperRN
    Let's see, the rapist in Atlanta killed a judge and others.
    A man killed the family of the judge who threw out his medical malpractice lawsuit as frivolous. Then killed himself.
    Does anyone know of an "activist judge" threatened or harmed?

    Senator Links Violence to 'Political' Decisions
    'Unaccountable' Judiciary Raises Ire
    By Charles BabingtonWashington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page A07
    Sen. John Cornyn said yesterday that recent examples of courthouse violence may be linked to public anger over judges who make politically charged decisions without being held accountable.

    In a Senate floor speech in which he sharply criticized a recent Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty, Cornyn (R-Tex.) -- a former Texas Supreme Court justice and member of the Judiciary Committee -- said Americans are growing increasingly frustrated by what he describes as activist jurists.

    It causes a lot of people, including me, great distress to see judges use the authority that they have been given to make raw political or ideological decisions," he said. Sometimes, he said, "the Supreme Court has taken on this role as a policymaker rather than an enforcer of political decisions made by elected representatives of the people."

    Cornyn continued: "I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. . . . And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where 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, engage in violence. Certainly without any justification, but a concern that I have."

    Cornyn, who spoke in a nearly empty chamber, did not specify cases of violence against judges. Two fatal episodes made headlines this year, although authorities said the motives appeared to be personal, not political. In Chicago, a man fatally shot the husband and mother of a federal judge who had ruled against him in a medical malpractice suit. And in Atlanta last month, a man broke away from a deputy and fatally shot four people, including the judge presiding over his rape trial.

    Liberal activists criticized Cornyn's remarks, and compared them to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's comments last week following the death of a brain-damaged Florida woman, Terri Schiavo.

    DeLay (R-Tex.) rebuked federal and state judges who had ruled in the Schiavo case, saying, "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

    Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, said last night that Cornyn, "like Tom DeLay, should know better. These kinds of statements are irresponsible and could be seen by some as justifying inexcusable conduct against our courts." The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called the senator's remarks "an astounding account of the recent spate of violence against judges, suggesting that the crimes could be attributed to the fact that judges are 'unaccountable' to the public."
    Cornyn spokesman Don Stewart declined to speculate on what instances of violence the senator had in mind. "He was talking about things that have come up and concerned him," Stewart said.

    In his speech, Cornyn criticized the Supreme Court's 5 to 4 decision on March 1 that said it is unconstitutional to execute people who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. "In so holding," Cornyn said, "the U.S. Supreme Court said: We are no longer going to leave this in the hands of jurors. We do not trust jurors. We are no longer going to leave this up to the elected representatives of the people of the respective states."

    In a recent New York Times article, John Kane, a senior judge in the U.S. District Court for Colorado, wrote: "Since 1970, 10 state and federal judges have been murdered, seven of them in job-related incidents. Those who threaten judges are almost always disturbed individuals seeking revenge. . . . Of the three federal judges killed in the last quarter-century, all were killed by men disgruntled with their treatment from the federal judicial system."