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Need for Neutral Magistrates

I wrote a posting last week regarding the importance of a free and impartial judiciary and somewhere it is still bouncing around in cyberspace. But it is an important topic which bears some re-statement on my part. The need for a neutral and detached magistrate (to use the Constitutional descriptor) is as obvious as it is often misunderstood.

Let's look at the job of a judge. This person is entrusted with deciding issues based on the facts presented and the law applicable. Not an always easy task. I have previously stated that certainly in criminal cases often the law tempered with mercy is justice. Some think the job of a judge is to decide according to popular opinion. This is not correct. Judge's know more about a case than does the public or the news media. Not everything in a case is made public, nor should it be. People should be convicted on the current charge and not whether they have been accused before. When someone is suspected of an offense today the first thing the media does is look for prior records and publish that information. But it is not relevant in a legal sense to whether or not the person committed the current offense. It may tend to sway the public but it should not sway the judge.

There are some critics who love to assert that judges are legislating from the bench. Usually this is in response to a ruling with which the critic disagrees. We can remember the Terry Schiavo brain dead case from several years ago. Those who wanted her to remain on life support equipment after some 15 years of being in a persistent vegetative state and accused the courts of legislating by not finding the law permitted the intervention the critics desired.

But judges are human and sometime mistakes are made. But mere disagreement with a ruling is not the same as a judge being, wrong, biased or exceeding his/her judicial discretion. Today we need a strong judiciary, free from any political push. The terms conservative, liberal or moderate really have no place in the discussion or perspective of the judiciary. The only term which should be considered is jurist, which is defined as an expert in or writer on law. When this person couples that ability with an assessment of the facts they become a judge. Our judiciary must remain a strong independent branch of government, subservient to neither the legislative nor the executive but rather, as intended, a check on both.