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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.