American Judges Association


Date of this Version

Fall 2006


Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 43:3. Copyright © 2006 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission.


Essential to the rule of law in any land is an independent judiciary, judges not under the thumb of other branches of Government, and therefore equipped to administer the law impartially. As experience in the United States and elsewhere confirms, however, judicial independence is vulnerable to assault; it can be shattered if the society law exists to serve does not take care to assure its preservation.

On the essence of independent, impartial judging, a comment by former U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist seems to me right on target. Using a metaphor from his favorite sport, he compared the role of a judge “to that of a referee in a basketball game who is obliged to call a foul against a member of the home team at a critical moment in the game: he will be soundly booed, but he is nonetheless obliged to call it as he saw it, not as the home crowd wants him to call it.”

My remarks concentrate on judicial independence in the system I know best, the Third Branch of the U.S. Government— the federal courts—and on efforts by the political branches to curtail that independence.

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