Being a judge is no fun

Apr 142005
Authors: Gavin McMeeking

The framers of the Constitution may have taken some offense at the underlying premise of the charming movie "Judge Dredd," what with the whole separation of powers thing they seemed so in love with. The concept of a man, in this case Sylvester Stallone, who had the power of the police (clearly part of the executive branch), the judge (obviously the judicial branch), the jury (the voting branch) and my personal favorite, the executioner (the executionative branch?) is downright unconstitutional.

James Madison, after slurping down his third large Mountain Dew 20 minutes into the movie (he was known, after all for "doing the Dew"), would most likely have stormed out of the theater in quite a fit. After all, the concept of an independent judiciary was a bedrock to this country's founding.

These fine fellows might have even taken some offense to the nonfictional grumblings about judicial independence going on right now on talk radio, television and in the storied halls of Congress. Whether it's complaints about the actions of judges in the Terri Schaivo case or statements made by Texas Sen. John Cornyn that violence against judges is understandable, it isn't a fun time to be a judge.

When Supreme Court justices recently went to Capitol Hill for a hearing on routine budget concerns and were asked about the recent stir over federal judges, one justice, Clarence Thomas, compared the job to that of a college football referee, stating that "there's a reason (referees) don't hang around after the games." And as any sports fan can tell you, a good referee is equally hated by both sides. Of course, a bad referee is also hated by both sides, just not equally.

It is easy in the era of instant spin and a somewhat partisan climate to forget how difficult it is to be a judge. You won't find any reality shows in which contestants compete for an appointment to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, though I'm sure the networks have looked into it. Plus you can't show off 20-something girls in swimsuits when your reality show is stuck in some stuffy courtroom instead of the sultry, hot beaches of the tropical Pacific.

I can't even judge simple things, such as baking contests or disputes stemming from arguments over the rules of Risk (the game of world domination). It's better to leave judging to experts like Stalone or Michael Phelps, who did a masterful job of helping to pick the next Miss U.S.A. the other day.

Yes, there are situations when a judge may overstep his or her bounds and become a little too much of an "activist," but for the most part, when judges make unpopular decisions the public quickly assigns blame to the judge as opposed to the relevant law on which the ruling was based. Following the advice believed to have been first given by the sage actor/rapper/philosopher Will Smith, the public should instead choose to not "blame the player," but rather "blame the game."

Unhappy with the decision to remove Shaivo from life support? Pass a law. Of course, laws require majorities to pass, and worse, if the law is struck down as being unconstitutional, then there is the daunting prospect of amending the Constitution. This requires that the proposed law be very popular and agreed upon by most members of the democracy we call the United States. It is a simple fact of life that it isn't easy to get a huge number of people to agree on much of anything in this country, whether it is choosing pizza toppings or reforming Social Security. This makes it difficult to make radical, sometimes dangerous, changes to the laws of the United States, almost as if it were designed that way.

You may think that intentional grounding should be called regardless of whether or not the quarterback is still inside the tackle box, but referees won't start making different calls until the NFL or the NCAA changes the rulebook. Good judges, for similar reasons, won't start changing the laws just because Congress, the president or even a significant fraction of the public feels they should.

Of course, if you want a bunch of Judge Dredds running around, that's your funeral. Having seen the movie once, I can tell you that's definitely something I sure as heckfire don't want to see ever again. Unless I can download it free off of the Internet.


Gavin McMeeking is a graduate atmospheric science major. His column runs every Friday in the Collegian.

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