Judges must be protected from political threats, said U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist in his year-end report. He critiqued efforts to impeach or remove judges on religious or ideological grounds for "judicial activism," a charge frequently leveled at judges who have written unpopular rulings on issues like school prayer or the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Rehnquist's comments come as Congress prepares for potentially contentious battles over President Bush's nominees for federal judgeships. Various religious groups have warned politicians against resisting nominations.
In radio statements and a January letter to 1.2 million members of Focus on the Family Action, James Dobson, the organization's leader, said legislators should "beware" of voting against Bush nominees lest they be in "the bull's eye" at election time. Dobson said Tom Daschle, former U.S. senator from South Dakota, was defeated for opposing Bush nominees.
Rehnquist didn't name names in his report but cited the "mounting criticism of judges for engaging in what is often called ‘judicial activism.' "
"Judges are expected to administer the law fairly, without regard to public reaction," wrote the chief justice, who is a member of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, McLean, Va. "A judge's judicial acts may not serve as a basis for impeachment. Any other rule would destroy judicial independence.
"Instead of trying to apply the law fairly, regardless of public opinion, judges would be concerned about inflaming any group that might be able to muster the votes in Congress to impeach ... them."
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