Tuesday, April 30, 2013

SHOULD FEDERAL JUDGES HAVE LIFE TERMS EVEN IF IT MEANS PRESIDING OVER TRIALS AT THE AGE OF 104?

Recently the oldest serving Federal Judge in America died at the age of 104; he often said he enjoyed his work but didn't like long trials. It's unclear if he's diligently continuing work in his Kansas Courtroom from the other side thru seances, but in all likelihood his constitutionally defined life appointment terminated upon his death.

Life terms of Federal Judges help protect the integrity of the judiciary in Tampa Bay, Florida.
U.S. Supreme Court, 1925
Though private employers might think twice before hiring someone who is a mere 67 years old; that's the average age of the members of our Supreme Court. 
Yet those youthful enough to remember a band known as the Rolling Stones might be surprised to find that the average age of Mick Jagger's band is 69, two years older than the Court. Both groups seem to be working hard into old age producing plenty of briefs if not hits.

As the average age of Federal District and Appeal Judges increases Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers may find that Federal Judges sitting on the case would never be tolerated at a law firm arguing the case. Often the huge backload of pending cases in Florida State and Federal Courts is reduced by experienced senior Judges who handle their assigned large caseloads with success.

The constitutional life term of Federal Judges was instituted to protect the Judiciary from the executive and legislative branches. And it has succeeded, but for an occasional imprudent threat of impeachment when a particular congressman disagrees with a Federal decision now and then. 
Yet wouldn't a long term of ten years or even twenty years accomplish the same objective? Or would the limit of time have the unsavory effect of making decisions seem political, a mockery of a fair court, masking even the fairest Judge's decisions with a cloak of selfishness. 
Compare the short term of Federal prosecutors in the Justice Department to the lifetime appointments enjoyed by Federal Judges. 

In the Middle District of Florida in Tampa it's not unusual for a new United States Attorney to be appointed by the President every three years or so. The idea is that the office is more significant than the person holding office and that all of us are better served if the power of that office is not vested in any individual for too long. But that power, the power to prosecute is much more destructive and powerful than a Judge's power, which ultimately rests upon mere words which others are relied upon to obey. 
Perhaps the framers of our constitution, having successfully battled a King, were wise in freeing our Federal Courts with life terms for its Judges. 


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