Rose Bird BACK

The Supreme Court's Independence

Pro   Con

The confirmation election has developed into a popularity contest which threatens the constitutional principle of an independent judiciary. Appellate court judges are responsible for the interpretation and application of laws, regardless of public sentiment. If the campaign against Chief Justice Bird succeeds, the state's judges will be forced to make future rulings based on political expediency rather than impartiality.1 A December 1985 poll conducted by USC's Institute of Politics and Government found that Californians, by a 2-1 margin, believe that judges should be independent from political pressure and not be held accountable to the views of voters.2


The confirmation election poses no threat to the time-honored principle of an independent judiciary. The public review of judicial performance does not compromise the system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The independence of California Supreme Court justices is protected by lengthy terms of service and election procedures that make it difficult to defeat an incumbent.3 Judges, like elected officials, should be held accountable to the voters.4

AMA Commentary

The poll results cited in the pro argument have been verified.

1 Falk, James B., "Judges Should Only Be Removed If Incompetent or Unethical," California Journal, June 1985, p. 250.
2 Los Angeles Times, "Independent Courts Backed in Poll," by John Balzar, 12/28/85, II:p. 3.
3 "The Court on Trial," The Supreme Court Project: 1985, p. 3.
4 "This Election is a Test of Public Confidence in the Court," California Journal, June 1985, pp. 249-250.