Letter: The Court and the People

The Court and the People

To the Editor:

I would like to reply to David Russell’s May 13 letter about Sen. Patrick Leahy and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Russell says that Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito swore under oath that they would respect judicial precedence. Mr. Russell is wrong. The website of the U.S. Supreme Court (www.supremecourt.gov) has the “Constitutional Oath” for all federal employees, the “Judicial Oath” and a sometimes-used “Combined Oath.” These oaths do not contain any wording that could reasonably be construed as requiring Supreme Court justices to “respect judicial precedence.” Respecting judicial precedence (“stare decisis”) is part of the legal tradition. It is not, however, etched in stone to force every judge to stand by every past decision when the judge receives a similar new case.

Mr. Russell says that Justices Roberts and Alito should be impeached. The U.S. Constitution does not offer language for removal of Supreme Court justices from office. Only one Supreme Court Justice, Justice Samuel Chase, has ever been served with Bills of Impeachment. The bills originated in the House of Representatives. The trial was held by the Senate. Justice Chase was acquitted. Sen. Leahy can’t bring charges against Justices Roberts and Alito, because the process would, again, have to start in the House and be tried by the Senate.

Mr. Russell cites polls that question the decisions of the Supreme Court in two cases. Polls and “people’s feelings” should never be used as the basis for an attempt to remove a Supreme Court justice from office. Polls and “people’s feelings” change from year to year. Do we really want to base the composition of the Supreme Court on “which way the wind blows” or on a whim? Supreme Court justices should be removed from office for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

David Russell may not like every decision rendered by every Supreme Court; that’s his privilege. However, if every citizen who didn’t like a decision of the Supreme Court demanded that justices be impeached and removed from office for that reason, we’d have the beginnings of a banana republic.

Alan Tanenbaum