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The American Bar Association Examines Judicial Independence
Initiatives by the American Bar Association (ABA), announced at its recent annual meeting examine judicial independence and the perception of the third branch of government by the American public.
A Lou Harris and Associates telephone survey conducted in July shows public support for judicial independence against political pressure. The results of the survey were released by the ABA at its annual meeting.
When asked by pollsters if they thought it is appropriate that the decisions of federal judges should be used in political campaigns, 83 percent of those surveyed said it was not appropriate. In response to the question, "Do you think it is reasonable for either Presidents or members of Congress to try to influence or affect a judge's decision during a case," 84 percent said it was not reasonable. The Harris poll surveyed 1,005 adult Americans.
In questions asked to determine the relative importance of various factors as criteria for judicial selection, the overwhelming majority, 83 percent, said professional competence and reputation were very important in the selection. Only 13 percent said such competence was only somewhat important.
According to half of those interviewed, personal beliefs and ideology were very important in someone selected to be a federal judge.Thirty-five percent responded that those factors were somewhat important. Fourteen percent thought beliefs and ideology were either not very important or not important at all.
And finally, survey respondents were split on the importance of political party affiliation in the selection of federal judges, with 40 percent saying party affiliation is very or somewhat important, and 58 percent feeling it to be not very important or not important at all. (Two percent didn't know.)
At its annual meeting, the ABA also announced the creation of a Commission on Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence to analyze the constitutional and historical origins and development of judicial independence and the separation of powers doctrine. The 11-member commission includes its chair, Edward W. Madeira, Jr.; former congressman, Robert W. Kastenmeier; former federal judge and White House counsel, Abner Mikva; and several former state and local officials, attorneys and prosecutors. The commission, following a series of hearings, is slated to produce a report by August 1997.
According to the ABA, the commission will "identify and analyze the essential principles of judicial independence, and assess whether incidents such as this spring's public attacks on federal judges for specific decisions and recent congressional activities involving oversight and regulation of the affairs of the federal Judiciary threaten judicial independence." Commission members also will evaluate whether existing mechanisms are adequate to the task of preserving an appropriate balance between judicial independence and accountability. If not, the commission may recommend additional measures or guidelines to restore that balance.