Social Justice?

How about just plain justice? When the justice system works; when people have meaningful access to it; when the integrity of the officials who operate it remains sound; when the constitutional principles which form it are followed, the people have justice. No need for progressive adjectives to bend justice in another direction.

If our constitutional republic were a perfect world, the legislature would make the laws, the executive branch would enforce and administer them and the judiciary would apply and interpret them to each particular case. But we humans are often less than perfect and checks and balances are built in, because those who formed our national and state republics knew those checks on government power would be needed from time to time.

As an experiment in self-governance, using great knowledge of history, law and philosophy, the founders of our nation and state sought to create a balanced system of self-governance via the constitutions and the governments it forms. We The People do have quite a mess on our hands today and much of it is because the mandates provided by the constitutions are not followed.

The finger of blame can be pointed in many directions and the judiciary is certainly deserving of its share of finger-pointing from time to time. Abortion, for example. Is there a legislated law allowing abortion? Not that I know of. The US Supreme Court decreed it was legal to terminate life in the womb. That is judicial legislation, not interpretation of existing law.

Visit a law library. You will find comparatively small sections of the library dedicated to actually legislated laws in the various codes. But there will be ample shelf space for an extensive body of “law,” called case law or judicial rulings and opinions. And often these rulings govern.

In fairness, much of the case law on those shelves is the interpretation of legislated law, as it should be, and often the judiciary brings forward very astute, well-reasoned opinions on many subjects. But not always is it so.

For example, the “doctrine” of “Absolute Immunity.” Not based on legislated laws, this judicially created doctrine provides the judiciary and prosecutors “absolute immunity” from liability and protection from lawsuits for misconduct. Ostensibly to protect them from frivolous and harassing litigation, it can also be a self “legislated” license for corruption with impunity. As Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Often times the judiciary does its job reasonably well, but many Americans have fared poorly when making constitutional challenges or other cases that are a threat to government’s assumed operation of powers.

Many ideas were considered by many Americans on how to change this. One of them, originated by Ron Branson, was called Jail for Judges. I, along with co-authors Rose Johnson and Norma Batt, took this incomplete, but promising idea, and developed it into an initiative for Idaho. We did not feel the legislature would be very receptive to it at the time or they would gut its important provisions rendering it not very effective, so we went the initiative route. It is called the Idaho Judicial Accountability Act and we attempted to get it on the 2006 ballot. It failed to meet the stringent standards for signature gathering and so remains an idea whose time has not yet come.

It creates a special citizens grand jury, permanently operating and exclusively dedicated to the review of judicial misconduct complaints. It both protects the judicial officers from frivolous and harassing litigation, while affording citizens an avenue to find justice. Any case found to have merit would be sent to separate trial jury for trial.

Potentially self-funding after the initial start-up, the long-term goal of this Act is to apply consequences for judicial misconduct and remove judicial officers for repeated misconduct, thereby assuring that the judiciary follows the constitution and laws of this state. And when the judiciary is held accountable, the other branches of government can be held accountable when the citizenry seeks justice in the courts.

The complete Act can be found on the Idaho Secretary of State’s website.