The American judicial system is perceived as one of the most independent judicial systems around the world. However, there are factors which negatively influence the operations of the judiciary in exercising legal matters. In this essay, I will explore why I believe the independence of the American judicial system is compromised.
The fact that federal judges are approved by senate after being nominated by the president puts at stake the independence of the American judicial system and the conduct of its judges. This largely discredits the selection of federal court judges as the process of selection may not be transparent and may even take a political dimension.
Moreover, approval of judges by senate (after appointment by the president) means that the executive arm of government exercises control over the judiciary. This puts into question the ability of the judicial system to exist independently (O’Connor and Sabato, 200).
For example, an election petition by Algore, challenging the re-election of George Bush, was shot down in unclear circumstances perceived to be politically instigated. In addition, O’Connor and Sabato use Hamilton’s quote to emphasize the vulnerability of the Judiciary. They suggest that the American Judicial System “neither has the power of the sword nor the power of the purse” (O’Connor and Sabato, 330). This jeopardizes formulation and implementation of policies.
According to O’Connor and Sabato, federal court judges are appointed in a political process and are never subjected to voter approval. They can only be removed from office by impeachment. Certainly, impeachment of a judge who is biased is almost impossible (O’Connor and Sabato, 302). This instills doubt on the ability of the American judicial system to exercise judicial matters independently.
When one critically analyzes the profile of federal court judges, it is clear majority have held political offices, for example positions of prosecutor and campaign strategist. The profiles of these judges influence how they vote on judicial matters.
Therefore, the voting process may be influenced by extralegal factors including political influence, corruption, attitude, public opinion and the ideologies held by judges (O’Connor and Sabato, 245). The influence of judges by factors mentioned above means that judges are unable to exercise impartial judgement.
Since there is lack of independence in the American judicial system as explained above, it is important to subject federal court judges to approval by the public. This should apply to the whole judicial system including state courts. For example in California, such measures exist as judges are subjected to approval by the public, can be removed by a committee on judicial performance, and run for elections every six years (O’Connor and Sabato, 328).
According to O’Connor and Sabato, Article III of the United States constitution establishes the Supreme Court where all judicial power is vested and covers life tenure on the part of judges. Moreover, this article establishes the compensation of judges so that they exercise judicial matters without being compromised.
Though the key objective of this article was to address the limitations of the article of confederation that relied on the state for judicial matters, it has done little to check existence of bias in the judiciary (O’Connor and Sabato, 187).
According to O’Connor and Sabato, the power of the courts to ascertain if laws or other legal matters contravene the constitution (judicial review) is not mentioned in the constitution. Furthermore, judicial review has been minimally used and even abused. For example, it has been used minimally to challenge powers of congress but maximally as a tool to make state legislative acts toothless by invalidating them (O’Connor and Sabato, 301).
From the above argument, it is clear the American judicial system is almost toothless and it exercises legal matters in the midst of influence. Though the federal courts in the United States are very powerful today, they exercise their power to serve the interests of various quarters which may be extra political or intra-political. This jeopardizes the independence of the judicial arm of government as entrenched in the constitution.
O’Connor, Karen, and Larry Sabato. Essentials of American Government: Continuity and Change. Longhorn Publishers, 2010. Print.