Judicial appointments must be unbiased

Hal Sundin

What does the jargon “activist” or “out-of-the-mainstream” judge really mean? Simply that his or her opinions do not agree with those of the person or group using that label.

But judges are not supposed to be swayed by public sentiment. Their job is to render unbiased opinions on the legality or constitutionality of issues referred to them. Our Constitution made the federal courts the only unelected branch of government for the express purpose of insulating them from the pressure of public opinion. If judges were subject to public opinion, we would not have many of the civil rights and other social reforms that we cherish.

In the past, the issues have been social, economic, or political. Today the issues are becoming religious. What is ironic is that the framers of the Constitution, as a result of their enmity for the Church of England’s religious domination in the American colonies, wanted to keep religion out of government and vice versa. They created a new type of nation, which they wanted to be free of religious manipulation.

History provides us with many examples of the dangers of theocratic government. For centuries, the world has been bloodied by those seeking to impose their version of theocracy. And today most of the world’s unrest is due to Islamic fundamentalism, which resists progress, and has caused Muslim countries to fall behind the modern world.

Even in our own country, religious influences are rejecting science and medical progress by trying to stamp out evolutionary science, replacing it with biblical creationism, and by opposing embryonic stem-cell research. If our government becomes subject to these religious pressures, we also will become a backward reactionary country.

It is the intent of our Constitution that the courts should be nonpolitical to protect the citizenry from domination by either a majority or a vociferous minority. Anyone whose objectivity is compromised by rigidly held beliefs on either side of social issues such as race, national origin or religion, or by political extremism, is not suitable for occupying positions of power in a democratic society. The problem is that those who fit this description are so implacably bound to their beliefs as to be incapable of compromise. Compromise is not consistent with moral certitude, but it is essential to the success of a democratic state. We will no longer be a democratic society if a democratic government ceases to be based on open-mindedness, and succumbs to domination by religious influence.

Religious extremism brings with it two other threats to our society. One is that it labels those who are not of “acceptable” convictions as lacking morality and being anti-Christian, thereby irrevocably dividing our society. We need to distinguish between theology and morality ” one can be highly moral without subscribing to a specific theology, and advocating a narrow set of theological objectives does not necessarily make one a truly moral person.

Second, we face a bleak future if so-called “moral issues” become the primary focus of political activism at the expense of the serious social and financial challenges facing us.

We need to be vigilant in maintaining the objectivity and independence of our judicial system from outside pressures if we are to continue to have the constitutional democracy that the framers of our Constitution envisioned. That means carefully scrutinizing the freedom from bias in all candidates for appointment to powerful judicial positions.

Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.

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