Monday, October 24, 2011

the liberal judiciary isn't all that liberal

it occurs to me that if federal judges did have fixed terms rather than lifetime appointments, the courts would probably be more liberal, not less. the american judiciary historically has been a conservative institution. the exception being the period between the switch in time that saved nine and the reagan era. that roughly 50 year period (typified by the warren court) has burned itself into the movement conservative's mind so that now, even with a pretty conservative judiciary, they instinctively cherry pick judicial results they don't like as evidence of an out of control liberal judiciary. and so they point to gay rights decisions (which are moving in a more liberal direction) and ignore more numerous conservative legal victories, like the recognition of an individual right to bear arms, curtailment of discrimination and voting rights statutes and a host of other pro-corporate decisions (like the recognition of corporate free speech).

the reason why the judiciary tends to be conservative is because lifetime appointment generally locks into office people who a decade or two later might not meet the evolving sensibilities of society. it doesn't always work that way. but that is the tendency. if judges turned over more often, then the judiciary would follow the drift of political opinion more closely as (for example) the obama administration would be able to replace the term-limited appointees from earlier republican administrations.

also, newt is totally behind the times in his jihad against the ninth circuit. yes, the 9th used to be very liberal. but that's not true anymore. currently, among the full-time judges, it has 9 republican-appointees and 5 democratic-appointees. if you count the senior judges (who are retired but who effectively work part time, being assigned to fewer panels), that adds another 8 republican-appointees and 10 democratic appointees, bringing the total of 17-15, still favoring the Rs. that also shows the increasingly conservative shift of what used to be america's more progressive circuit court. i guess it's not surprising that newt gingrich is still stuck in the 1990s.