Have you ever imagined the terrible situations U.S. citizens would have faced in the absence of judicial independence? It would have been unimaginable.
The law would have been similar to a barking dog that can’t bite. There would have been no law to curb the government’s excesses. The rich and powerful would have been untouchable, and there wouldn’t have been freedom of speech or the sort of democracy we have today.
Let’s be honest. Without judicial independence, our judges would have become puppets to politicians. They would have had no other option but to perform the bidding of selfish politicians. Why? They wouldn’t want to risk losing their jobs.
Well, things are entirely different today. The legislatures cannot just wake up and decide to impeach a judge. It can only initiate impeachment proceedings when the judge commits a criminal and ethical crime. That’s according to the constitution.
So, why is judicial independence so crucial to our country today? This article will focus on the subject. Read on!
What Judicial Independence Is
Judicial independence implies freedom of the judiciary arm of government. It means the massive freedom judges enjoy once appointed.
It is just like the United States Federal Election Commission (FEC). The agency’s independence allows it to organize elections without bias. Why? The commission’s independence means government or private individuals have no right to interfere or dictate the commission’s affairs.
The simple reason is that the people heading the commission don’t answer to the government or any private individual. They are independent.
So, what is judicial independence? It implies the ability of judges to discharge their judicial duties without any interference by private individuals or the government.
By the way, the U.S. President recommends candidates for the position of Chief Judge to the Senate. The Senate screens the candidates and confirms the right candidate for the job.
And as you already know, the Supreme Court can have only one Chief Judge. The rest are called Associate Judges.
Judicial independence allows judges to deliver judgments without fear or favor. Judges aren’t afraid because the president cannot sack them, despite nominating them.
Judges remain in their position for life. Death, retirement, or impeachment is the only thing that can remove a judge from office.
The constitution states that judges who portray good behavior will remain in office.
Why Is Judicial Independence Important?
So, why is judicial independence relevant? What benefits does it offer judges, citizens, and our democracy? Let’s discuss this.
#1: Gives judges guarantees against undue pressure:
Public office holders face excessive pressure. The pressure could be internal or external. Judges are no exception. But thanks to judicial independence, they can discharge their duties without fear or favor.
So, judicial independence gives judges the guarantee they require to discharge their judicial duties smoothly. It shields them from undue pressure from other judges within the judiciary system, including high and low-ranking ones.
However, the high-ranking judges’ supervisory powers cannot affect the substances of any judge’s decision-making. That’s what judicial independence promotes.
#2: Financial autonomy:
Imagine a situation where the judiciary is denied the finances its needs to perform its duties because a group of politicians isn’t comfortable with its head. Such a move would be disastrous for our country’s judicial system and the entire citizenry.
But that’s not the case. The judiciary independently manages its funds and internal financial affairs. They have complete financial autonomy.
So, the executives or legislatures cannot punish the judiciary by denying them access to finance. If they do, there won’t be judicial independence or financial autonomy. And that would be terrible for our democracy.
Financial autonomy allows the judiciary to discharge its duties efficiently. And it is essential for judicial independence.
#3: Increases public trust in the judicial system:
The U.S. President recommends candidates for the Chief Judge position to the Senate, but that doesn’t make the confirmed candidate a puppet to the president or legislatures.
Once appointed, the Chief Judge serves for life. The executives or legislatures cannot just decide to impeach the Chief Judge. Impeachment can only occur when the Chief Judge commits an ethical or criminal offense, as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
So, judicial independence builds public trust. The trust also encourages people to seek redress in court and accept the judge’s judgment on the matter brought before the court.
If the reverse were the case, people wouldn’t have had fate in the judiciary system. Judicial independence is why citizens can sue the government or wealthy individuals and win.
Why? The judiciary system has the tools it needs to be unbiased. Thus, it won’t act in favor of the government or wealthy individuals. Judgment delivered would be based on the law and facts.
We have seen wealthy politicians sued by ordinary citizens who don’t have half of the accused person’s wealth and won. It can only occur in a country where there is judicial independence.
#4: Decisional independence:
Decisional independence is the byproduct of judicial independence. It implies the ability of judges to decide cases using facts and the law.
The judge’s decision is independent of the media, politicians, or the public’s opinion. Judges can deliver decisions without fear that their careers will be at stake.
#5: Judges’ removal not easy:
Judges have solid statutory and constitutional protections. So their impeachment or removal from office isn’t as straightforward as other public servants.
Article III of the U.S. Constitution states that judges shall “hold their offices during good behavior.” But the good behavior in question doesn’t mean doing the bidding of members of the executives or legislatures.
The House of Representatives impeaches judges, and the Senate’s conviction sends the judge packing. Now, here’s the thing. A judge’s impeachment has nothing to do with their judicial act.
Judges’ impeachment can only happen when they commit criminal and ethical crimes.
What does this mean? If a judge shows good behavior, they’ll remain in office. It doesn’t matter if they deliver a judgment that doesn’t favor a sitting president or lawmaker.
#5: Strengthen democracy:
Judicial independence is one of the crucial factors that differentiate the U.S. government’s system from others across the globe.
It safeguards our limited constitution’s privileges and rights and stops the legislatures and executives from infringing upon those rights.
Judicial independence serves as the foundation of our democracy and the rule of law. It protects the poor from the rich, the weak from the powerful, and the minority from the majority.
Why is judicial independence important? It is the bedrock of our democracy. It is why judges can discharge their duties without fear or favor.
The absence of judicial independence would have created a massive hole in our democracy. We may not have even made much progress in our democracy today.
Judicial independence helps to prevent legislative and executive encroachments upon certain rights. It’s why the weak or poor can stand up to the powerful and super-rich.
The United States would not have achieved what we have achieved as a country today without judicial independence. Corruption would have taken over and limited our progress in many aspects.