September 30, 2019

Weekly Column: Countering The Assault On Our Supreme Court's Judicial Independence

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The Supreme Court of the United States plays a vital role in safeguarding the United States’ Constitution.  Threats by other members of the U.S. Senate to intimidate the Supreme Court into capitulation of its constitutionally mandated duties goes against every value of judicial independence our country has long held.  Fellow Idaho Senator James E. Risch and I joined a majority of our Senate colleagues in sending a letter to the Supreme Court taking issue with legislative threats to the court’s independence and supporting the Justices in fulfilling their oaths of following the law.

In August, five Democrat U.S. Senators filed an amicus brief in New York State Pistol & Rifle Association v. City of New York.  Amicus briefs are filed frequently.  However, the Senators did more than raise legal arguments in favor of the Court dismissing a Second Amendment challenge to a New York City handgun ordinance, the subject of the case.  They went so far as to threaten the Court with “restructuring” if the Court does not dismiss the case, as the Senators urge.  The Senators wrote, “The Supreme Court is not well.  And the people know it.  Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.’”

This threat of political retribution required rebuttal.  Senator Risch and I joined a total of 53 Senators on a letter led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).  In our response, we raised concerns that, “judicial independence is under assault.  Democrats in Congress, and on the presidential campaign trail, have peddled plans to pack this Court with more justices in order to further their radical legislative agenda. . . . the Democrats’ amicus brief demonstrates that their court-packing plans are more than mere pandering.  They are a direct, immediate threat to the independence of the judiciary and the rights of all Americans.”

Further, we countered that we will continue to protect the independence of the Court and push back against legislative attempts to “restructure” the Court.  We wrote, “Our constitutional republic depends on an independent judiciary ruling impartially on the basis of what the law says.”  As we work to counter politically motivated efforts to undermine judicial independence, we asked the Justices to “stand firm and do their part to protect our ‘government of laws, not of men.’”

The letter builds on other efforts to protect judicial independence.  Earlier this year, I co-sponsored a resolution introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) that would help protect the Court from political court-packing.  S.J.Res.14 would propose a constitutional amendment requiring the U.S. Supreme Court to be composed of not more than nine Justices.

Throughout the Senate’s consideration of judicial nominations, as a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary tasked with considering federal judicial nominations, I have consistently maintained that an emphasis on following the law and upholding our Constitution must be a central characteristic of any person confirmed for the federal branch.  To safeguard our rights, judges must adhere to the rule of law and not enable judicial activism to prejudice rulings.  I will continue to support nominees who carefully exercise this judicial responsibility within the limits of the law, as I work to protect judicial independence.   

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