As the smallest branch of government, and with the shortest founding text in the Constitution among the three branches, the U.S. judiciary faced uncertainty and political interference in its early days. In recent decades, however, the judiciary has matured into an independent and transparent institution, remarkably resilient to political turbulence and attack. It’s also a relative bargain for taxpayers, considering its role as the primary interpreter and defender of the Constitution.
None of this has prevented political attacks on the judiciary, which continue to this day. You may recall the Florida case involving Terri Schiavo, a patient in a permanent vegetative state, and what happened when her husband won judicial relief to stop medical measures to keep her alive. Prominent pro-life politicians launched vitriolic attacks on the judges involved. Attacks on the judiciary for politically unpopular decisions have become so toxic that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has made it part of her post-Court retirement to stop these attacks and inject more civility into political treatment of judges. While citizen frustration with government is not new, dangerous threats against the judiciary are on the rise and represent a worrying trend.
You may spend your entire life without ever meeting a single judge. If you do have experiences with a judge, you will likely find him or her to be surprisingly human, honest, and above all, fair. The judiciary lacks a natural constituency, so the burden of ensuring the continued success of this American institution falls on all of us, citizens and corporations alike.