What liberal judiciary?

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


The Los Angeles Times today does some nice number-crunching over judges on federal courts. Contrary to much “liberal activist judge” mythology, “ninety-four of the 162 active judges now on the U.S. Court of Appeals were chosen by Republican presidents.” And Republican appointees have a clear majority on 10 of the 13 circuit courts. So George W. Bush’s whining over the fact that a small handful of his judges are being blocked—and mostly just those who, like William G. Myers III, are wholly unqualified for the bench—sounds awfully petulant. Likewise, complaints by Bill Frist and Tom DeLay that there’s an out of control liberal judiciary in America just sound silly.

That said, there’s still a certain logic to all these complaints. Most of the Republican judges now on the circuit courts, after all, are merely conservative—by and large exerting a good deal of judicial restraint. By contrast, as Jeffrey Rosen nicely described over the weekend, a growing number of conservatives—including and up to Dick Cheney in the White House—actually want to place strong conservative activists on the court, people who, contrary to “mere conservatives” like Antonin Scalia, would be actively willing to overturn law after law in order to get legal doctrine back to where it was before the New Deal. The sort of judges who will strike down labor and environmental protections, scale back minimum-wage and maximum-hour laws, and take away Congress’ ability to regulate commerce. Bill Pryor, one of the judges being held up by Democratic filibuster, likely falls under this category. ”Bill Pryor is the key to this puzzle; there’s nobody like him,” says Michael Greve, one of the foremost defenders of the so-called “Constitution in Exile.”

Now obviously when Bill Frist rails against “activist judges,” he’s not intentionally referring about this sort of thing, even though there’s nothing more activist than trying to overturn 70 years worth of legal precedent. No, his barking is directed at liberals, or judges whose decisions he disagrees with. But if, as the Los Angeles Times notes, the current judges simply aren’t all that liberal, and if, as Jeffrey Rosen points out, the current judges aren’t all that activist compared to what the president is proposing, well, the complaints against the judiciary start to descend into pure incoherence.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate