What is judicial
independence? It is an important
principle that means a judge has the freedom to make a fair and impartial decision
based solely on the facts presented and the applicable laws, without yielding
to political pressure or intimidation.
independence serves to protect the constitutional rights of citizens and ensures
the rule of law. Former Chief Justice
William Rehnquist referred to judicial independence as "the crown jewel of our
system of government."
Independent Courts Protect Our Rights
courts protect the rights of the powerless.
The drafters of our Constitution were keenly aware of the dangers and
excesses that can occur when the majority in government controls virtually all
matters, a situation James Madison referred to as the "tyranny of the
majority." To prevent those dangers,
our founders painstakingly designed a balanced government with a wall of
separation between the branches, an independent judiciary, and a Constitution
that is supreme in all respects.
Independent Courts Follow the Rule of Law
courts guarantee that judges follow the rule of law, the foundation of our
civilized society. Under the rule of
law, judicial decisions are based strictly on applicable statutes and
constitutional provisions as well as prior judicial decisions known as legal
precedent. The rule of law creates
predictability in the application of our laws.
may be appropriate for politicians to consider public opinion and the views of
special interest groups when drafting laws and regulations, it is never
appropriate for judges to do so when deciding cases. Judges must remain impartial.
In this respect, the judiciary is very different from the other two
branches of government. Judges are
accountable to the Constitution and the law—not political pressure. And in this way the courts are always
accountable to the people.
Independent Courts are Accountable
Our system of
government is carefully designed to foster fair and impartial courts while
maintaining strict judicial accountability through a series of checks on
judicial power. Here are some examples
of established procedures that keep courts accountable.
party believes a judge made a wrong decision or error, the party may appeal to
a higher court to review the judge's ruling.
This is an appropriate and effective check on judicial power.
legislature disagrees with the way a court has applied or interpreted a law, it
may pass legislation to amend the law and prospectively change the impact of
the court decision. This is another
appropriate and effective check on judicial power.
citizens disagree with a court's interpretation of a constitutional provision,
they have the power to amend the Constitution to undo the court's
interpretation. Without question,
amending the Constitution is an appropriate check on judicial power and on
legislative power as well.
In addition to these
checks on the appropriate exercise of judicial power, Iowa has two procedures
to address judicial misconduct or substandard performance.
the end of a judge's term of office, voters may vote against retaining a judge
for another term.
judge engages in unethical conduct, habitual intemperance, or persistent
failure to perform duties, the supreme court can discipline the judge and even
remove the judge from office.
Safeguarding Our Independent Courts
independent courts that are fair and impartial, accountable only to the law and
the Constitution. Yet, these values are
under attack. Around the nation there
are forces working to undermine judicial independence, a principle that has
served the people well for over two hundred years.
far-sighted constitutional merit selection process ensures that we have high caliber
judges of utmost integrity, who are selected based upon their professional
qualifications—not ideologies. Judicial
independence ensures that our judges base their decisions on the law and the
Constitution and nothing else.
Ultimately, however, the preservation of our fair, impartial, and
independent court system requires more than the integrity and fortitude of
individual judges, it requires the fervent and steadfast support of the