Saturday, March 18, 2017

Maintaining Judicial Norms

Judge Derrick Watson's ruling on the Trump travel ban has ignited commentary about the role of the judiciary vis-a-vis the presidency and existing constitutional norms.  At Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic raise a potentially quite troubling permutation: the rise of the judiciary as a partisan political actor.  For this model of the judiciary, norms about institutions and constitutional principles would pale before the way judges feel about the holders of certain offices:
Imagine a world in which other actors have no expectation of civic virtue from the President and thus no concept of deference to him. Imagine a world in which the words of the President are not presumed to carry any weight. Imagine a world in which far more judicial review of presidential conduct is de novo, and in which the executive has to find highly coercive means of enforcing message discipline on its staff because it can’t depend on loyalty. That’s a very different presidency than the one we have come to expect.
It’s actually a presidency without the principle that we separate the man from the office. It’s a presidency in which we owe nothing to the office institutionally and make individual decisions about how to interact with it based on how much we trust, like, or hate its occupant.
A world where the judiciary interprets law based not on precedent and institutional principles but instead on its feelings about individuals would be one where judicial philosophy would become much less stable (if we could even call it a "philosophy" at all).  It would likely endanger public faith in the judiciary as a responsible institutional actor and could contribute to greater public distrust about important constitutional stakeholders.

Partisan politics can blind us to the consequences of our actions, but civic (and ethical) responsibility demands that we try to account for these consequences.  That responsibility weighs especially on those in the judicial branch.

(Over at the Corner, I think about the consequences of Judge Watson's ruling for future immigration legislation.)

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