Liaison Notebook: Issues to Maintain Independence

Vol. 39 No. 4

By

Nicholas D. Wittenberg, a third-yearstudent at The University of Toledo College of Law, is the 2010–11 Law StudentDivision liaison to the Standing Committee on Judicial Independence.

The ABA Standing Committee on JudicialIndependence has undertaken and made significant accomplishments on many projects regarding judicial independence. As an example, the Committee wrote anamicus brief in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., Inc., et al., 129 S.Ct. 2252 (2009). Caperton demonstrates the “extremes” of when judicialindependence is called into question. Caperton involved Massey Coal Co.chief executive officer Don Blankenship donating $3 million to Brent Benjamin, acandidate for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. This case represents the Committee’s substantial concern, an erosion of a neutral and unbiased judiciarywho resolve disputes in an impartial manner, a central principal in theAmerican judiciary.

The Committee is composed of a number of accomplished judges and lawyers fromacross the nation. William Weisenberg chairs the Committee and directs itsefforts toward the monumental task of highlighting judicial independence. Lawstudents are encouraged to attend meetings and to review the Committee’s material as it examines impressive matters. The caliber of jurists on theCommittee is also motivating for law students seeking to gain a better understanding of why judicial independence is a significant issue.

Other Committee projects and priorities include revising the ABA Standards on State Judicial Selection, Defending the Courts/Response to Unjust Criticism, and setting national judicial standards. The Committee is also working on the“Least Understood Branch” project, reviewing state court funding, and the Committee is focusing on Justice Is the Business of Government Task Force along with the National Center for State Courts.This committee is also focused on promoting diversity on the bench, and continued work and promotion of the Judicial Disqualification Project.

These projects represent a snapshot of the expansive amount of work the Committeeundertakes to maintain judicial independence. As the Committee’s chair,Weisenberg states on the Committee website, “[a] fair, impartial andindependent judiciary is indispensible to a free and democratic society. Publictrust and confidence in our courts, the belief that all who come before thecourts will be heard, be given a fair and impartial hearing, is the foundationof our justice system.”

This message and further information that law students and lawyers alike will findin valuable can be located at www.abanet.org/judind. The Committee’swebsite also provides multiple resources. The Committee works on multiple projects and identifies a number of priorities to maintain a cornerstone of the American legal system—a fair and impartial judiciary.   

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