No proper role for J.A.I.L. 4 Judges
October 9, 2006
Texas' gubernatorial race is strange indeed, but even Kinky Friedman & Co. can't outdo South Dakota this year in the bizarre category.
Voters in the Mount Rushmore State will decide whether to allow angry, unsuccessful litigants to haul judges and other government officials who make judicial decisions before special grand juries and possibly impose civil and criminal penalties on them for doing their jobs.
Officially known as Amendment E, the ballot measure is referred to by supporters as J.A.I.L. 4 Judges, or the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law.
More than 33,456 South Dakota residents signed petitions to put the measure on the ballot, but it is the brainchild of California minister Ron Branson.
The Californian picked South Dakota because the state's small population made it relatively easy to gather enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot, the Argus Leader, a Sioux Falls newspaper, reported.
According to his Web site, Branson hopes the South Dakota measure is the beginning of a national movement to strip judges of personal immunity for the decisions they make on the bench.
In the mid-1990s, Branson's online biography reveals, he sued the city of Los Angeles and several police officers. He didn't get what he wanted from the courts, and he has been on the warpath against the judiciary ever since.
The Associated Press recently reported that the ballot explanation of Amendment E, which was the subject of a court battle, states that it applies to other government officials in addition to judges.
While the Argus Leader reported that state supporters of the measure have forced Branson into the background, Amendment E opponents noted Branson's Web site states, "Our first goal is to take South Dakota by storm, then the other states by fall-out."
Branson would also like to see his proposal enacted on a federal level. He envisions special grand juries made up of registered voters or volunteer citizens who hold judges' feet to the fire.
Most people are content to appeal to a higher court when they disagree with a judicial decision. Branson and his allies would rather create a new Wild West system of retribution. So much for interpreting the law without undue outside pressure.
Amendment E represents the anti-judiciary movement at its most extreme.
Anti-judiciary sentiment has been given voice in Washington by the rhetoric of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other House conservatives who want to see judicial clout scaled back.
But the South Dakota constitutional amendment takes the fight to gut so-called activist judges to a frightening new level.
An independent judiciary is a cornerstone of the American system. It prevents popular sentiment from crushing individual rights and serves as an important check on the legislative and administrative branches of government.
The No on E Committee is attracting big contributions from banks, business interests and lawyers, the AP reported.
Committee treasurer Bob Miller told the AP, "Contributions came in from banks because they quickly realized what chaos it would create in the credit industry."
Bankruptcy judges could be legally harassed by debtors for upholding the law under the amendment.
The entire system of settling legal disputes in a civilized manner would crumble if the J.A.I.L. 4 Judges proposal were enacted.
South Dakota voters can become eccentric trendsetters, or they can crush this bad idea on behalf of their fellow Americans.
Copyright 2006, San Antonio Express-News
From: San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio, Texas, September 30, 2006, http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/ stories/MYSA100106.2H.Davidson.21fe9d8.html (remove space), accessed 10/09/06. Bruce Davidson may be contacted at email@example.com. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.