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Front Page » May 3, 2005 » Opinion » What exactly are activist judges?
Published 3,406 days ago

What exactly are activist judges?


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By RICHARD SHAW
General manager

Activist judges.

It's a term I have heard people mention in public, mention on television and on the radio and write in news articles. But just what does it mean?

I have assumed from the connotation that is placed on the term that it is most often used when a judge rules in a matter just the opposite from what the person using the term wishes them to.

And because of that there is a big move to get rid of or strip some power from "activist judges."

Most who grew up in the 1960's remember the saying "A revolutionary to one person may be another persons hero?" Today some people put "terrorist" in the place of revolutionary. In some ways don't judges fall under the same umbrella? Depending on their stand on an issue we agree or don't agree with, each of us qualify them as good or bad judges.

When I went through a divorce nearly 25 years ago, I thought the judge in my case wasn't very fair to me. That judge later was appointed to the Utah State Supreme Court and I have never liked a ruling that person has handed down since.

I don't know where the idea came from that judges are supposed to always go along with congress or the president, especially when one party dominates the national government in certain decades. The three branches of government are supposed to balance each other out, sometimes going along with what each other wants and other times heading in exactly opposite directions.

There is a reason many judges are appointed for a lifetime; that way they don't have to worry their ruling will end in their being unemployed.

For some reason there are those that have lost sight of what the judicial branch is supposed to do. They complain about judges running the country and making policy. They worry about the affect a judgement or ruling might have on some beloved governmental program or law. They get concerned that judges have too much power and set precedents that can't be reversed or could cause serious problems in the future.

All these things are legitimate worries. Rulings judges at many levels make have often changed things a great deal, and the outcomes are decidedly one sided, which often rubs the other side of the issue the wrong way.

I hate to tell those that complain, but that is the way it is supposed to be. The courts are there to protect the constitution, or more exactly how that court construes the constitution. They often work in the interest of the minority, but in essence protect all the people in the process.

I know a lot of people are worried about President Bush being able to appoint too many Supreme Court justices in the next few years, but I personally am not that concerned about it. I also know some people that are excited about the prospect, because then there will be, as they put it, "people who make sense" on the court. But for those that are excited about that prospect they need to know that the majority of the justices on the court right now were put there by conservative presidents and many of those justices have disappointed ultra-conservative causes time and time again on major issues.

Back in the 1960's and 1970's when the court was filled with judges appointed by "liberal" presidents those judges did things that constantly ticked off the liberal crowd as well.

This fear of judges by those that have been ruled against, like was demonstrated with my feelings in my divorce, is not unfounded. Judges do make bad rulings (of course that is relative to what side of an issue you are on). But the majority, regardless of their political leanings, do use the law as a guidepost and do a pretty good job.

There has been a lot of talk about changing our system of government so that the judicial branch doesn't have so much power. But the way I see it, the only guardian we have against political intrigue and manipulation is the courts, especially in these days of big business, big money and it's influence on the other two branches of our federal government.

Taking away the power of the courts, regardless of how ridiculous some of their rulings may seem, would only add to the problem of division in our country and would certainly affect any rights minority political groups possess.


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May 3, 2005
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