Protecting an independent judiciary is more important than ever.
As members of the legal profession, we all play a role in protecting judicial decision making from outside influences that attempt to sway or disrupt judicial proceedings or exert pressure on individual judges.
Judges take an oath to make decisions based on the law and facts — without regard to their politics, feelings, personal beliefs, special interests or public opinion.
But in performing our duties and abiding by the Constitution, judges are increasingly vulnerable to attacks that not only place judicial independence at risk, but our democracy as well.
Personal attacks aimed at embarrassing, harassing and coercing judges have become more frequent — especially in retaliation for unpopular rulings and prior to elections.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his 2021 book “The Authority of the Court and the Perils of Politics” that our nation is starting to view judges as “politicians in robes.”
In some cases, these attacks are designed to unfairly impact one’s right to a fair hearing. In others, they are an attempt to influence judicial elections by misinforming or misleading the public about a judge’s record or qualifications.
They even go beyond name calling and social media fodder. The ABA Journal reported that threats and inappropriate actions against federal judges and court personnel increased from 926 incidents in 2015 to 4,261 in 2020.
Everyone has a right to disagree with a court’s decision. With a “losing” side in nearly every ruling, opinions will always differ over court outcomes. But those who ridicule a judge’s legitimacy or threaten retaliation due to an unfavorable ruling only contribute to public mistrust of the judiciary.
The upcoming 2022 election cycle includes the State Supreme Court, appellate courts, circuit races and votes on the retention of judges on the ballot across Illinois.
Voters should evaluate judges based on their integrity, professionalism, temperament, experience and commitment to public service, fairness and impartiality.
The Constitution guarantees that we are all entitled to equal treatment under the law. The judiciary serves as a co-equal branch of government responsible for protecting the rights of all people.
But our right to equal treatment is meaningless without an independent court system. The Illinois Judges Association plans to emphasize the importance of judicial independence and elections throughout the year.