In Slate last week, Yale professor Bruce Ackerman called for the impeachment of federal appeals judge Jay Bybee. The rationale would be to provide an opportunity for a legislative investigation of Bybee’s previous work as a Justice Department attorney, where he helped produce the “torture memos” that green-lighted conduct that included abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and elsewhere.
If legal work done before joining the bench becomes ground for impeachment, the courts are in for hard times. The Constitution subjects judges to impeachment for “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Professor Ackerman wants to drop the atomic bomb of our political system on Judge Bybee for helping to author legal opinions that he describes as “extreme,” “legally incompetent,” and “poorly reasoned.” Impeachment criteria like these could clear the bench pretty quickly, especially as enforced by legislators pandering to their angriest political supporters. Read more
Two and a half years ago, with Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life struggle playing out on national television, Congress passed a law transferring it from state to federal court. They gave her parents special authority to bring a lawsuit, and ordered federal judges to ignore previous state decisions. It was political court-tampering of the first rank. Americans across the political spectrum were appalled. Inside-the-Beltway backpedaling ensued.
The backlash hasn’t been lost on the major presidential candidates: