Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Sotomayor Debate: Why Conservatives Are Scared Of Judges

Conservatives don't trust judges.

This is why we have sentencing guidelines, minimum mandatories, reporting requirements on sentences, and the phrase that everyone likes to say, and no one understands: "legislating from the bench."

About 4 years ago, when this blog was in its infancy, I wrote about "legislating from the bench."

I said this: "Government hates our judges in America. They don't trust them, and they blame them for the state of, well, everything.

The problem is, governments define a bad judge as "one who does not rule they way they are supposed to rule."

The reason for this hatred is mainly because government doesn't understand nor respect the role on an independent judiciary, which has been significantly diminished in the last 20 years due to Congress believing they need to take hold of our court system.

Judges are supposed to be the independent arbiters of justice. Justice is a simple concept, it is fairness.

Fairness is what we determine it to be. If we think someone is guilty, then damn that judge who presides over the trial that finds him not-guilty (not to mention the obviously brain-dead jurors who were following instructions and actually applying the burden of proof).

If we think someone should receive a life sentence, then damn that judge that gives a 30-year sentence. And a judge better not find that a search of someones home was in violation of the Fourth Amendment, especially if there are drugs in the house. That's a no-no.

Most important, judges should never find themselves 'legislating from the bench.'

That is what extreme conservatives say when they are asked what type of judge they want on the Supreme Court. They all answer in the negative, like a church choir - 'we don't want a judge who 'legislates from the bench.'' Ever notice that there is no follow-up question? This is because no one knows what that phrase means. No one.

I do, "legislating from the bench" means to interpret the Constitution in a way that violates someone's political or religious persuasion.

See, the Constitution has been interpreted for years. But if a judge interprets it in a way that creates a right for someone, that is 'legislating from the bench.'

So if the judges on the Supreme Court interpret the Constitution as NOT prohibiting abortion, gay marriage, or the integration of our schools, then they are 'legislating from the bench.'

So it is not that Congress and state legislatures hate our judges because they legislate from the bench, it is because they interpret the Constitution to afford rights to those that 'they' believe should not have them."

In the coming days and weeks, this "legislating from the bench' crap will be a daily retort from those against Sotomayor. Want to end the conversation? Ask this question: 'What specifically do you mean by that?" The answer will be something like: "you know, legislating, from, the bench, making policy. legislating." Follow up with , "Ok, give me specifics."

You legislators ever wonder if the lack of respect for the legislative process brings this about? Respect for passed laws is based on the process in which they are passed.

I'll have respect for the process when I can ask a random sampling of legislators about a law that recently passed, and half of them can tell me what it says.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

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