Throw away the key on Jail4Judges
Our view: The Jail4Judges Amendment would threaten judicial independence and our legal system. It's a good thing that it failed in South Dakota.
November 13, 2006
If President Bush got a "thumpin" in Tuesday's election, Amendment E in South Dakota got a "crushin," like a car gets when it's driven into a junkyard and is carried out as a 1-ton metal brick.
The measure got hammered by a 90 percent to 10 percent vote.
Which is good. Because it couldn't have happened to a nicer amendment.
Amendment E, charmingly named the Jail4Judges Amendment by its own supporters, indeed would have resulted in just that: jail for some judges, as well as fines, censure, removal from office and forfeiture of retirement benefits.
If a judge takes bribes or pulls a knife on a witness in court, he or she would deserve some of those things. But that's not what Amendment E was about. Amendment E was about taking judges down for their routine decisions. It would have weakened judicial immunity, a protection that has shielded court officers for all of American history and is a cornerstone of our entire judicial system.
Currently, if you disagree with a judge's decision, you can appeal it, but you can't sue the judge. Amendment E would have changed that. The amendment would have established a permanent, 13-person special grand jury that would have decided whether lawsuits against judges were frivolous or deserved to go to trial.
Not that there would have been much doubt about the result, given that putting a judge on trial would have required only a simple majority of jurors, and the amendment itself included this astounding language: "All allegations in the complaint shall be liberally construed in favor of the complainant."
The 90 percent to 10 percent outcome Election Day makes it seem as though the amendment was DOA, but it wasn't. A Sept. 20 Zogby poll suggested that 67 percent of voters favored the measure, while only 20 percent opposed it. And the Friday before the election, a South Dakota TV station's poll claimed that the measure still drew the support of 51 percent of all voters.
Never have polling errors been so welcome, because Amendment E needed to be not just defeated, but thrashed. The amendment would have taken a sledgehammer to a system that for all its faults jails criminals, enforces contracts and otherwise carries out a "rule of law" in America that lets most Americans live out their lives in security, prosperity and freedom.
Does the system need reform? Sure, as all systems devised by humankind do. And the political process is proving quite adequate to that task. Not only are Supreme Court appointments matters of intense national debate, but also the rules for appointing state and other lower-court judges are under constant review.
And, voters seem open to less-radical but still far-reaching reforms, such as the Shared Parenting Initiative in North Dakota. It failed at the polls, but not by much an outcome that suggests lawmakers and voters will debate that issue for many years to come.
In this environment, it was good to see Amendment E go down to absurdly lopsided defeat. South Dakota voters want reform, not revolution, the vote declared; it renews one's faith in the initiative system to see voters make that distinction so definitively.
Congratulations, South Dakota, for such a sensible yet unmistakable response. Jail4Judges appears to be one movement that Americans want to see disbarred.
Copyright 2006, Forum Communications Co. Fargo, ND
From: Grand Forks Herald [Editorial] November 13, 2006, http://www.grandforksherald.com/..., accessed November 16, 2006. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.