Origins of the Federal Court System

Judicial Review and Judicial Independence

CourtSpeak: Modern View on Life Tenure of Supreme Court Justices

Chief Justice William Rehnquist (2004): “By guaranteeing judges life tenure during good behavior, the Constitution tries to insulate judges from the public pressures that may affect elected officials. The Constitution protects judicial independence not to benefit judges, but to promote the rule of law: judges are expected to administer the law fairly, without regard to public reaction….

“A natural consequence of life tenure should be the ability to benefit from informed criticism from legislators, the bar, academe, and the public. When federal judges are criticized for judicial decisions and actions taken in the discharge of their judicial duties, however, it is well to remember [a principle that has] long governed the tenure of federal judges…. Congress’ authority to impeach and remove judges should not extend to decisions from the bench. That principle was established nearly 200 years ago in 1805, after a Congress dominated by Jeffersonian Republicans impeached Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase…. The political precedent set by Chase’s acquittal has governed the use of impeachment to remove federal judges from that day to this: a judge’s judicial acts may not serve as a basis for impeachment. Congress’s authority to impeach and remove judges should not extend to decisions from the bench….”


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