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'A Justice on Justice'

September 01, 1987

Referring to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White's recent address to the American Bar Assn., the Times editorial ("A Justice on Justice," Aug. 12) suggests that judicial retention elections cause "serious damage to the rule of law" by creating "political or other pressures (on sitting judges) that threaten to distort their judgment." Naturally, your editorial cited the voter's rejection of former California Chief Justice Rose Bird as an example of this damage.

The Times continues to underestimate the intelligence and integrity of the substantial majority of voters who determined that Bird and two of her colleagues (former Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin) should not continue on the California Supreme Court.

The voters rejected these judges not to undermine the rule of law, but to preserve it. The voters did not want court decisions distorted by political considerations. Quite the contrary: Those Justices were removed from office because the voters wanted to reject a pattern of decision-making based on judges' personal political philosophy--instead of the rule of law.

The election was not a referendum on the death penalty. It was a referendum on intellectual integrity and a mandate from the voters that judges are to follow the law, whether or not it agrees with their own political preferences.

The only protection sitting judges need from having their decisions reviewed on political bases is something virtually all judges provide for themselves--avoiding politically based decision-making in the first place. The voters are collectively smart enough to recognize the need for fair, impartial and intellectually honest judging, whether or not they always agree with the results.

The fact that the voters are also smart enough to recognize politically biased decision-making when they see it, as they did last November, does not pose any threat to any judge worthy of the job and never has.


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