The Judges Made Them Do It
By Editorial Board, New York Times
Wednesday, April 6, 2005
It was appalling when the House majority leader threatened political retribution against judges who did not toe his extremist political line. But when a second important Republican stands up and excuses murderous violence against judges as an understandable reaction to their decisions, then it is time to get really scared.
It happened on Monday, in a moment that was horrifying even by the rock-bottom standards of the campaign that Republican zealots are conducting against the nation's judiciary. Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, rose in the chamber and dared to argue that recent courthouse violence might be explained by distress about judges who "are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public." The frustration "builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in" violence, said Mr. Cornyn, a former member of the Texas Supreme Court who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which supposedly protects the Constitution and its guarantee of an independent judiciary.
Listeners could only cringe at the events behind Mr. Cornyn's fulminating: an Atlanta judge was murdered in his courtroom by a career criminal who wanted only to shoot his way out of a trial, and a Chicago judge's mother and husband were executed by a deranged man who was furious that she had dismissed a wild lawsuit. It was sickening that an elected official would publicly offer these sociopaths as examples of any democratic value, let alone as holders of legitimate concerns about the judiciary.
The need to shield judges from outside threats - including those from elected officials like Senator Cornyn - is a priceless principle of our democracy. Senator Cornyn offered a smarmy proclamation of "great distress" at courthouse thuggery. Then he rationalized it with broadside accusations that judges "make raw political or ideological decisions." He thumbed his nose at the separation of powers, suggesting that the Supreme Court be "an enforcer of political decisions made by elected representatives of the people." Avoiding that nightmare is precisely why the founders made federal judgeships lifetime jobs and created a nomination process that requires presidents to seek bipartisan support.
Echoes of the political hijacking of the Terri Schiavo case hung in the air as Mr. Cornyn spoke, just days after the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, vengefully vowed that "the time will come" to make the judges who resisted the Congressional Republicans' gruesome deathbed intrusion "answer for their behavior." Trying to intimidate judges used to be a crime, not a bombastic cudgel for cynical politicians.
The public's hope must be that Senator Cornyn's shameful outburst gives further pause to Senate moderates about the threats of the majority leader, Senator Bill Frist, to scrap the filibuster to ensure the confirmation of President Bush's most extremist judicial nominees. Dr. Frist tried to distance himself yesterday from Mr. DeLay's attack on the judiciary. But Dr. Frist must carry the militants' baggage if he is ever to run for president, and he complained yesterday of "a real fire lighted by Democrats around judges over the last few days."
By Democrats? The senator should listen to what's being said on his side of the aisle, if he can bear it.