Benny's World

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mass SJC chief decries 'attacks' on judges

From today's Boston Globe:

Marshall defends bench independence
By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff May 23, 2005

The chief justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court said yesterday that
rhetoric about judges destroying the country and the suggestion that court
decisions should conform to public opinion are threatening public trust in the
judicial system, a cornerstone of democracy.

Justice Margaret H.
Marshall, who has been widely criticized as a judicial activist since writing
the court's 2003 decision allowing same-sex marriage, spoke before a crowd of
7,000 at Brandeis University's 54th commencement.

A native of South Africa who fought apartheid before coming to the United States, she said she is not concerned about criticism of individual judges or decisions, but about ''attacks leveled at the very foundation of our legal system -- the principle
that judges should decide each case on its merits . . . independent of outside

''I worry when people of influence use vague, loaded terms like 'judicial activism' to skew public debate or to intimidate judges," Marshall said. ''I worry when judicial independence is seen as a problem to be solved and not a value to be cherished."

One year after the ruling by the state's highest court took effect, Massachusetts remains the only state where gay and lesbian couples can legally marry. The 4-3 decision was seen as a landmark by those on both sides of the marriage debate, and opponents of same-sex marriage across the country moved quickly to build on public outrage in its wake.

In more than a dozen states, voters moved last year to ban same-sex marriage by approving constitutional amendments, against a backdrop of heightened mistrust of the courts. Governor Mitt Romney accused the Supreme Judicial Court of ''judicial overreaching" in The Wall Street Journal last year, and President George W. Bush lashed out at ''activist judges" -- those who use their decisions to push a social agenda -- in his State of the Union address.

Marshall did not make specific reference to the same-sex marriage decision yesterday, but she mounted a vigorous defense of the judiciary, calling it remarkable that in this country court decisions are obeyed even when they are controversial, and attributing that obedience to Americans' ''trust in the integrity of our judicial system."

''Americans, thousands of us every day, bring our conflicts to court because we believe we will receive a fair hearing and be treated equally by the judges. . . whose sole allegiance is to the rule of law," she said. ''Gratuitous attacks on judges undermine that trust."

To read the rest, go to

Amen, Justice Marshall.


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