Independence and Accountability of Justices

The Independence of Judicial Authority

A prevailing concern that informed the Framers’ choices related to the judiciary was the need to preserve the independence of the judges. Wherever possible, they wished to elevate the judges above the noisy partisanship of the political process. Whereas a legislature should possess a comprehensive understanding of and sympathy with local interests, the judiciary should act with total objectivity toward those interests. The Constitution therefore prescribes that judges should be appointed by the two most stable elective offices, the President and the Senate; they should hold their office during good behavior (which is effectively a lifetime appointment); and their compensation should not be diminished during their tenure. If the Framers could succeed in creating a branch of government beholden to no authority but the law, then the judiciary could be trusted to uphold the rightful claims of a weak party when the legislative process might fail to do so. As Gouverneur Morris later argued in the Senate, without the federal court system, “the citizen is deprived of those rights for which he stipulated, or rather those rights verbally granted would be actually withheld; and that great security of our Union, that necessary guard of our tranquillity, be completely paralyzed, if not destroyed” (January 14, 1802). The judge’s ability to defy the other branches of government and even an oppressive majority would therefore depend upon their independence.