Banned books and other forms of censorship

On the banning of books, censorship and other freedom of access issues

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Fair and Independent Courts conference

A two-day conference on "Fair and Independent Courts: A Conference on the State of the Judiciary" convened in Washington D.C. Sept. 28-29, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Various justices of the U.S. and state supreme courts spoke, along with academics and some politicians. Chief Justice John Roberts said "attacks on judicial independence come from all parts of the political spectrum." Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also spoke, declaring that the U.S. Constitution "provides the Courts with relatively few tools to superintend military and foreign policy decisions, especially during war."

Webcasts and transcripts of most of the panels and talks are available at the conference website.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal and interviewed in Time, O'Connor discussed her concerns over current threats to an independent judiciary and how that erodes our democracy and system of checks and balances. In the Time interview, she noted:

"It matters enormously to a successful democratic society like ours that we have three branches of government, each with some independence and some control over the other two. That's set out in the Constitution. The framers of the Constitution were so clear in the federalist papers and elsewhere that they felt an independent judiciary was critical to the success of the nation. Now you are seeing proposals in Congress to cut budgets of courts in an effort to in effect punish them for things the legislators don't like. There's a resolution pending to give grounds for impeachment if a judge cites a foreign judgment. You see a proposal for an inspector general for judges. You see a proposal on the ballot in November in North Dakota called Jail for Judges that would remove judicial independence and set up a mechanism to punish judges criminally and civilly for erroneous decisions. This is pretty scary stuff."

Meanwhile, in today's New York Times Scott Schane and Adam Liptak report that the power of the executive branch has been expanded at the expense of the judicial branch in the detainee treatment bill just passed, allowing President Bush considerable leeway in defining how he will interpret the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners:

"Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them -- albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment -- beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners.

"...The bill, which cleared a final procedural hurdle in the House on Friday and is likely to be signed into law next week by Mr. Bush, does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation."

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