Why An Independent, Impartial Judiciary Just Might Save America

KEYNOTE ADDRESS

Franklin County, Ohio Republican Party Judicial Salute, August 17, 2017

Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost

Thank you for those kind words, General DeWine, and it’s good to see my friend Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, a role model for two generations of those who tend the fields of justice.
A special thanks to Dave Lockshaw, Brad Sinnott, Doug Preisse, members of the committee for putting this event together. Judges who are not flamboyant and just do their jobs face challenges in finding money and attention once every six years…this helps.
And it’s important. You see, a healthy and prosperous society is a very difficult thing to create.
And it is a ridiculously easy thing to destroy.
Much of history is the story of failed efforts to build healthy and prosperous societies, and the failure to preserve the few healthy and prosperous societies that have existed.
Which is why we are so blessed to live in one of the longest-running success stories in all of human history, the United States of America.
And even though it is commonplace and true to say that God has blessed America, He didn’t just hand it to us on a silver platter.
Instead, he gave our Founders the wisdom, the courage and the opportunity to create a healthy and prosperous society, and left it to them to make it a reality.
And they did.
It has been going strong for more than 225 years, in spite of everything history has thrown our way over those centuries.
The reason is this unique system of balanced powers that the Founders created–a system built with checks on human irrationality, human greed, human folly, and especially, the human tendency to abuse power.
And those of you in attendance here — members of the independent judiciary — are the living embodiment of the Founders’ idea, to be a check and balance against overreaching power, to safeguard the rights of the weak against the strong.
Without you, the system collapses, and America’s long, happy story will come to an abrupt and ugly end.
Because without a strong, independent and brave judiciary, there is only the exercise of raw political power, a few winners, the ones with the power, and a lot of losers, all the rest of us.
Chief Justice John Roberts cites President Ronald Reagan on this this point.
Quote:
“President Ronald Reagan used to speak of the Soviet constitution, and he noted that it purported to grant wonderful rights of all sorts to people.
“But those rights were empty promises, because that system did not have an independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and enforce those rights.”
It’s what we mean when we talk about the rule of law.
A motorist was unknowingly caught in an automated speed trap that measured his speed using radar and photographed his car (Maybe it was in Brice?)
He later received a ticket for $150 in the mail along with a photo of his car.
Instead of payment, the motorist took a picture of $150 in cash and sent that photo in to police.
Several days later, he received an envelope from the police department containing a photograph of handcuffs.
That day, the motorist hand-delivered his payment of $150 — in good ol’ U.S. Currency.
The rule of law is two things: a law itself, and then ruling — or governing — according to that law.
The governance that completes the rule of law comes from you, the independent judiciary…
o independent of preeminent bullying politicians
o independent of selfish interests
o independent of mob opinion.
You judges hold a unique position in the constitutional structure, a unique responsibility.
While the legislative and executive branches are all about acquiring and wielding power, the judicial branch is meant to restrain power.
While a legislator’s job is to assert his own viewpoints and his preferred policies, it is your job to keep your viewpoints and preferences to yourself, and instead to be ruled by the law and to rule in accordance with the law.
This requires self-restraint, a willingness to negate oneself in order to serve a higher authority.
When my daughter was 12 or so, just at that age where kids begin asking big questions, we were walking in Delaware. She asked me “Dad, could the police arrest you for being a Christian?”
I tried to give that question the serious answer it deserved, and explained that even if an officer tried to do that, it wouldn’t stand. I explained Due Process and that a judge would set me free.
By the way, do you know why judges wear black robes?
That shapeless black robe is a symbol that the judge is cloaking his or her passions and preferences and politics, that the judge putting on an objective, neutral point of view to make decisions.
To be done right, this requires the exercise of uncommon humility and uncommon virtue.
It also sometimes calls for uncommon courage, because justice is not always popular.
Upholding the due-process rights of an accused criminal is not something many people would volunteer for.
Ruling against a popular but unconstitutional law is likely to win nothing but condemnation from the public and partisans and pundits.
Sound and principled decisions frequently are misrepresented to tar you as heartless and cruel, or as a bleeding heart, or as a sellout to one faction or another.
Accepting that as part of the job requires uncommon patience and courage.
People like Sean McCarthy, George Leach, Glenn Willer, Judge Jody Thomas possess the character and experience that demonstrate those judicial virtues, and the distinguished jurists and the Supreme Court justices in this room are demonstrating those virtues day after day in their decisions from the bench.
It is these virtues that make the independent judiciary a rock of stability in a tumultuous world.
Particularly when the nation is in turmoil, we need that rock, so that justice is not driven by the passions of the mob or the incitements of demagogues.
From time to time, our country is gripped in angry political disputes that seem ready to tear the nation apart, and one time — the Civil War — actually did tear it apart.
I’m old enough to have childhood memories of the 1960s…the Civil Rights struggles, the assassinations, the anti-war demonstrations, the early days of the gay-rights movement and women’s liberation.
Americans were at each other’s throats.
And I see something like that now, with the nation divided over so many things…the civil unrest from high-profile police shootings — or in some cases, outright assassinations, the violent suppression of free speech on college campuses, and the renewed militance of tiny but toxic movements of neo-Nazis and white supremacists who desecrated the very idea of America last week in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Neo-nazis and white supremacists are not “right,” not Republican, and not part of our party’s big tent — and never will be.
It is in such times that the nation must trust that society’s sinews — the fundamental institutions that hold us together — remain strong, refuse to break — and keep us firmly moored to justice and the rule of law.
It is no accident that in Nazi Germany, the courts were mere tools of the Nazi Party.
And it’s a never-ending story. I can’t help but notice that the violence in once-prosperous Venezuela follows 20 years of dictatorship during which Hugo Chavez packed the Venezuelan supreme court with his supporters, turning it into a rubber stamp for his regime.
Where there is no independent judiciary, there is nowhere to turn for protection of one’s liberty, livelihood or property. The guy with the biggest club — or the biggest vote total — takes what he wants.
It’s not that way in America. It’s not that way in Ohio or in Franklin County, because of you, and your work.
You are the difference between chaos and ordered liberty, the difference between the rule of law and the law of the jungle.
It’s why judges matter, and why judicial elections matter, and why I’m so grateful that the all of you gathered here today to support these admirable men and women who labor in those black robes, cloaked in obscurity.
Thank you.