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Judicial independence, United States Supreme Court


Courts | Jurisprudence | Legal History


Independence from extrinsic influence is, we know, indispensable to public trust in the integrity of professional judges who share the duty to decide cases according to preexisting law. But such independence is less appropriate for those expected to make new law to govern future events. Indeed, in a democratic government those who make new law are expected to be accountable to their constituents, not independent of their interests and unresponsive to their desires. The Supreme Court of the United States has in the last century largely forsaken responsibility for the homely task of deciding cases in accord with preexisting law and has settled into the role of a superlegislature devoted to making new law to govern future events. Citizens who see our judges as primarily engaged in this political role are understandably less tolerant of their claim to independence and are more intent on holding them to account for unwelcome decisions. Such popular dissatisfaction, or even unrest, with our judiciay is a source of prudent concern expressed by Justices, among others. This Article responds to that shared concern with a proposal to restore the Supreme Court to a more purely judicial role by reviving the duty of Justices to decide cases. It would require the Court to decide numerous cases certified by a group of experienced lower federal court judges as the cases most in need of their judicial attention. This proposal is intended not only to strengthen the claim to independence of the Supreme Court, but also that of other courts subject to its leadership.

Publication Citation

Cornell Law Review, vol. 94, no. 3 (March 2009)