Judges: Bias, Partisanship, and Corruption. Impact and What Can be Done to Achieve Fair Rulings.
The majority of the public in developed democratic nations are aware of the highly corrupt nature of judges in dictatorships and (ironically) in theocracy states. Are we in the US though much different?
Over the recent few years this has come into clear sight with the Dobbs decision, and various other dangerous and nondemocratic rulings in Federal and State judiciaries. I think as an educated author, the educated reading community can surmise my opinion of the 3 recent supreme court justices, recently described vacation bribe scandals, and an ill-informed Texas judge based on ignorant knowledge having the great prospect of turning over a decades long FDA determination. We now greet with surprise if judges of a certain political leaning render fair judgments that do not align clearly with their political or religious biases.
It does appear that the only fair rulings that may be achieved is if there is intense public scrutiny on a particular judge/ set of judges and a particular case.
Back track to human nature. We all have bias, and most act in accordance with our bias, including judges. On uncommon occasion, rulings may be in alignment with justice when it is contrary to bias, which may be on the basis of altruism or a self-serving noblesse oblige - it doesn't matter which because we will never know. Rulings may not necessarily always be corrupt, it depends on the significance of the ruling.
Based on no well-informed real world experience, many of us who follow the middle path, have been indoctrinated with the concept that justice is blind. Is it now? Has it ever been? No and probably no.
The major biases that are in public view are political leanings and religious leanings. What is not so well understood is the allegiance to organization, in particular to universities they have trained at - a circumstance I am now all too familiar with.
Judges are no less fallible and no less biased than the rest of us. In fact being intelligent and motivated probably more-so.
In short, these are my recommendations:
Judges opinions should be challenged when they appear clearly in error, and their opinions should be held to the standard of fairness. Judges should be held accountable for these clearly incorrect rulings. This has been treated to the present as a whoopsy situation, this should b treated with seriousness.
Since state judges are elected, and elections cost money, these judges should be recused from overseeing cases that involve their support system. This should not not a self-decision but as a matter of course and practice. Judges who have graduated from certain law schools must be automatically recused from ruling on cases that may negatively affect the universities they trained at. Judges of a certain political party appointment must be recused from ruling on cases that directly benefit their party. Judges who have shown a strong propensity to certain rulings, that may be aligned with their religion, must be recused from ruling on cases that have implications directly in opposition to their religious beliefs. This automatic recusal actually benefits them, so that if they are inclined to render a fair decision, they are not hunted down as traitors.
To keep the Supreme Court balanced, since we are in an essentially 2 party system, each party alternates in choosing a judge. We have borne witness over the last years of the corrupt shenanigans played in the senate, to stock the Supreme Court with party loyalists. This is avoided by alternating justice picks between the two parties, regardless of which party is in power. When the court political leaning is out of balance, as it is now, the 'losing' party choses the next judges to at least bring them to a deficit of 1.
Since the senate appoints judges including Supreme Court judges. The senate must be the responsible group to oversee ethics of the Supreme Court. As is in plain view, the concept that the Supreme Court can self-regulate on ethics, is as preposterous, as the Oil and Gas industry can self-regulate on pollution-control, and in a broader sense that any group can self-regulate. It is human nature that humans are self-interested.
Supreme Court justices should have a 10 year term. Ironically the lack of term limits has come to the great loss of the women's rights efforts of RBG. Had she been limited to 10 years, the erasure of many of her advances in women's rights would not have occurred.
On a dark humor note, after the Dobbs ruling a public opinion poll showed that 15% of the US public felt that the Supreme Court can be trusted. The general view has been, 'only 15%? that is terrible'; and a sharp rebuttal to the concept that justice is fair. My take on it, who are the 15% who think the Supreme Court is fair? Why these must be the 15% who are fervent anti-abortionists. So, that means that essentially no reasonable person thinks the Supreme Court is fair.
Justice John Roberts, who is in my opinion one of the great judges who actually strives for true fairness, famously said:
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Mr. Roberts said . “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”
Some of the wording was a little off: where he said: "We do not have" it should read: "We only have". In the state judicial system we have to add in the donors to elections of judges and the state universities judges have graduated from.
There is often a thin line between bias, which all of us have, and may often result in unfair judgements, but not always; to partisanship that virtually always results in unfair judgements unless the judge is under intense public scrutiny; to corruption, which is the unavoidable norm in dictatorships but is all too common in democracies especially when the politics in highly polarized.
Is justice blind. No, it is always overseen by humans who are biased, and on some occasions it is fair in a democratic society.
Richard Semelka, MD