Justice at Stake Criticizes Congressman Over Threat to Oust Judges
Watchdog Cites Political Threats Over Gay-Rights Rulings
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2010—A national watchdog group has condemned a statement by a prominent Iowa congressman urging impeachment and other political reprisals against state and federal judges who rule against his political preferences, saying “political threats don’t belong in America’s courtrooms.”
The Justice at Stake Campaign cited an October 12 statement, issued by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), over a federal court ruling striking down the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gay service personnel.
King’s statement was titled “Lawless judges should be removed from the bench.” In it, he said, “Judges should not be rewarded for flagrant disregard of the Rule of Law and the American people should respond by pursuing avenues which would result in the removal of lawless judges from the state and federal bench.”
Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, issued the following statement:
“Almost every American, liberal and conservative, has been angered by particular legal rulings, but that’s because we ask courts to settle tough legal disputes. It is reckless to threaten judges with ouster simply because we don’t like a particular decision. Political threats don’t belong in America’s courtrooms.”
King’s statement was prompted by the ruling of U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, who ruled that the U.S. cannot enforce its longstanding ban on gay personnel. The Congressman’s statement also cited an election campaign in Iowa, in which three justices face possible ouster for a 2009 ruling that Iowa’s constitution prohibits a ban on gay marriage.
While many state judges are elected, giving voters a chance to vote jurists off the bench, federal judges are appointed for life under the Constitution, specifically so that they can be insulated from partisan pressures. The only way to remove a judge is through impeachment, which the Constitution reserves for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” not for potentially unpopular decisions.
Only 15 federal judges have been impeached in U.S. history. Of those, seven were convicted and removed from the bench, four were acquitted, and three resigned after impeachment proceedings began. Thomas Porteous, a federal judge in Louisiana, currently is being tried in the Senate on charges of perjury for signing financial disclosure statements that did not report payments he allegedly received.
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The Justice at Stake Campaign is a nonpartisan national partnership working to keep our courts fair, impartial and free from special-interest and partisan agendas. In states across America, Campaign partners work to protect our courts through public education, grass-roots organizing and reform. The Campaign provides strategic coordination and brings organizational, communications and research resources to the work of its partners and allies at the national, state and local levels. The positions of Justice at Stake partners are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of other partners or board members. For information, visit http://www.justiceatstake.org.
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