Congress and the Courts: Judicial Independence and Congressional Checks
Recorded on March 15, 2005
Location: The Heritage Foundation's Allison Auditorium
The Founders designed a system of constitutional checks and
balances to ensure that no branch of government would become
tyrannical. With regard to the federal judiciary, which was thought
to be "the least dangerous branch" at the time of the framing,
every federal judge owes his appointment to the presidential
nomination and senate confirmation process. "Inferior courts" owe
their very existence and jurisdictional scope to acts of Congress.
Likewise, the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction may be
"regulat[ed]" by act of Congress. And perhaps most fundamentally,
judges serve "during good Behaviour," but subject to impeachment.
Thus, the Founders tried to ensure a fair degree of judicial
independence but not without any political controls.
Our first panel of distinguished scholars will explore the options
currently being debated for ending filibusters that are preventing
an up-or-down vote on judicial nominees who enjoy majority support
in the Senate. Are prolonged minority filibusters an abuse that
threatens judicial independence? If so, how should they be ended?
Our second panel of scholars will examine other means by which the
political branches may exert influence over the courts, including
impeachment and removal of judges, budget cuts, and possible
changes in federal jurisdiction. May judges be impeached for bad
behavior or only for committing high crimes and misdemeanors? Do
the House and Senate have the final word on this question? Are
current jurisdiction bills fabulous or foolhardy? Join us for what
promises to be a most interesting clash of ideas.