Independent judicial system vital to American ideal of democracy

A few weeks ago, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez removed eight U.S. prosecutors from their positions.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t even cause me to blink an eye, let alone dedicate a column to the topic, but as further allegations have come to my attention, I am becoming concerned.

Allegedly, these attorneys were not your run-of-the-mill incompetents gently relieved of their positions in favor of better candidates.

Newspapers have published leaked performance evaluations of the prosecutors that indicate each was good at his job.

At a congressional hearing Tuesday, one of the fired prosecutors asserted he had been removed from his job because he refused to speed up an investigation for Republican political gain.

Frankly, this concerns me.

I am not generally a paranoid person, but I am starting to worry about the balance of power in this country.

We have gone from three separate branches that check and balance each other to an executive branch seemingly bent on domination of the other two.

It may not seem that way, but judicial independence is vital to civil society.

The idea is that the court, including its officers, is the spot where everybody gets a fair shot to argue his case.

Injecting politics into it breaks down this system, and everyone loses.

Unfortunately, this seemingly political removal of prosecutors is not the first instance of encroachment on judicial independence.

Politicians have gone from simply decrying so-called activist judges during the ever-present election-year press conferences to legislating limitations on judicial authority.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 prohibits the judicial branch from hearing petitions for release from persons held by the executive branch.

Clearly, the independence of this branch of our government is in serious jeopardy.

I understand why the judicial branch can sometimes be unpopular.

The Supreme Court, the most prominent representative of the judiciary, isn’t elected, and once judges get on the court, they can stay there until they die, even if 99 percent of the country disagrees with their decisions.

It hardly seems fair.

However, the decisions of judges and prosecutors are often unpopular.

Issues of fairness, justice and civil liberties cannot be subject to a majority vote.

We select men and women who are, we hope, people of integrity and keen judgment to make the choices that we, as a society, would probably get wrong.

If we remove from them their ability to act in the interest of justice and make their jobs subject to the whims of politics, we have done them – and ourselves – a great disservice.

Controversial dismissals

Six former United States attorneys testified to a congressional panel Tuesday about their recent controversial dismissals.

Those who testified were:

Daniel Bogden – Las Vegas

Paul Charlton – Phoenix

H. E. Cummins III – Little Rock, Ark.

David Iglesias – Albuquerque, N.M.

Carol Lam – San Diego

John McKay – Seattle