The Left's War Against Judicial Independence

As we celebrate Constitution Day today, it is worth remembering that the Founders carefully wrote the Constitution to ensure that our third branch of government was independent through mechanisms such as life tenure, the prohibition against diminution of salary, and the nomination and confirmation mechanism itself, and that judicial independence is what preserves the Constitution and our system of government.  

Yet many liberals now want to undermine the independence of the judiciary because judges do not always reach the outcomes they desire to advance their progressive policy goals.  

Or perhaps more accurately, they are attempting to redefine judicial independence to mean a judiciary that advances progressive policy goals and interests.  

The Heritage Foundation hosted an event yesterday called "'Court, Heel Thyself!' - The Left’s War Against Judicial Independence" and featuring Carrie Severino, Chief Counsel and Policy Director, Judicial Crisis Network; Prof. John C. Yoo,  University of California, Berkeley School of Law; and Thomas Jipping, Deputy Director, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.  Here are some highlights (emphasis added):

Carrie Severino: "It's unfortunately nothing that new, that the confirmation process is broken. We can say at least since 1991 [with Justice Thomas] but obviously we can go back to the Bork confirmation before that. . . . It has mostly gotten, quote, worse and worse as the Republicans have started getting better and better at actually nominating judges who aren't simply going to be tools of the left to achieve their political goals by other means, which for a long time was the m.o. of the courts. Once President Reagan decided, with the help of General Meese, we're going to try to appoint some judges who have a principled approach to the Constitution, there was a major pushback, and it has continued ever since then."

Ms. Severino: The Kavanaugh confirmation was a "new low" after the smear of Justice Thomas: "It's not something that ends with confirmation. There continues to be a campaign to discredit. . . . There's this continued campaign of how can we affect the long-term legacy of a justice by trying to smear them in the confirmation process. And it's really bad for our country."

Prof. John Yoo: This "could represent a new institutional low, which I thought we had rejected since the Jefferson administration, which was the use of the tool of impeachment as a weapon against judges with whom one disagrees."

Prof. Yoo explained that if the Democrats were really serious about impeachment, they should call Max Stier, who was unwilling to talk to even the New York Times or the Washington Post on the record, and the new alleged victim to testify under oath, and the FBI could explain why they chose not to investigate.  "It seems their beef is not with Kavanaugh but with the FBI."  He also described the constitutional problem with the "new low" of continuing to attack justices once they are on the Court and calling for impeachment based on that:

The constitutional problem is that it's not clear to me that the Kavanaugh hearings and the confirmation process and how it worked would be grounds for impeachment. You could look at the Constitution. It says you can impeach a justice of the Supreme Court if they don't engage in good behavior while they're a justice of the Supreme Court. All of this stuff has to do with things he did before he was a justice. . . . I think there's a good constitutional case that Kavanaugh could not be impeached for things that arose during the confirmation process.

Prof. Yoo offered a solution to the current problems - the originalist jurisprudence and disregard for political approval of Justice Thomas: "The more the justices show that all this doesn't affect them, the less that people in the Senate or the House will do it."

Thomas Jipping: "Every conflict over an individual nominee is actually part of the broader conflict over judicial power. How much power should judges have in our system of government. . . . The left believes that judges decide cases based on their personal views, so they want to know what those personal views are."

Mr. Jipping added that there are other ways the left is attempting to undermine the judiciary, aside from smearing nominees and threats to restructure the Court:

The level of opposition to Trump's judicial nominees. You have 43% of all the "no" votes cast in the history of America have been cast against Trump nominees in the last two-and-a-half years. The Senate has confirmed . . . almost 4,000 judges before Trump came into office. Only 6% of them had any opposition at all, even a single "no" vote. Almost 60% of Trump's nominees have been opposed. . . . Why? The confirmation process itself is being weaponized, and redirected, and simply used as a front in the war against the President. They're almost ignoring what the qualifications of the nominees are; they're ignoring even what Democrats themselves used to do in terms of the standards they used to apply, and now it's a reflexive, I'm going to vote against you solely because you are a nominee of that President.

And that undermines the judiciary. That only feeds the misperceptions and misunderstanding of the American people about what the courts are about, what judicial independence means, and it just feeds the perception that if it's a decision I don't like, it must be wrong, and if it's a decision I like, it must be right. And that's fertile ground for these other kinds of efforts to try to pack the courts, to threaten to restructure them. You know, Senator Whitehouse is right: people do believe that the courts are influenced by politics, but the solution to that is not for other parts of the government to literally, physically, structurally manipulate the courts in a more political direction.

Ms. Severino noted that among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, we're seeing a "running to the left, particularly in an election year, when people are trying to establish themselves as the most extreme candidate, where they're willing to sign on to anything: they want to rework every aspect of the Constitution, from the Electoral College down to the Supreme Court justice."

John Yoo closed by identifying the heart of the problem: it all goes back to the Demcrats' refusing to accept the results of the 2016 election.  Those calling for Court packing have a "response to the wrong problem. What they have a dispute with is the outcome of the 2016 election. The 2016 election, more than any other election that I remember, put squarely on the ballot the future of the Supreme Court."