Media Does Disservice by Focusing On Who Appoints Federal Judges

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued a major ruling on the constitutionality of the health care legislation enacted last year.  The court found that the law's requirement that individuals purchase health care insurance was unconstitutional, but ruled that that the remaining provisions were not.      

Predictably, some news accounts are already covering the 304 page opinion less like the lengthy legal analysis it is and more like three judges who are simply weighing in on the nation's bitter red/blue political divide.  The Washington Post seemed genuinely surprised that judges aren't behaving as expected -- assuming you believe, as the Post apparently does -- that all judges are active partisans:

Chief Judge Joel Dubina, an appointee of President George W. Bush, and Circuit Judge Frank Hull, appointed by President Clinton, ruled against the individual mandate. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, also a Clinton appointee, dissented, accusing the court of ignoring “many years of Commerce Clause doctrine developed by the Supreme Court.”

Hull’s decisions marks the second political crossover in the appellate rulings. Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Supreme Court Anton Scalia and a Bush appointee, ruled in the law’s favor.

The term "political crossover" is particularly troublesome, as it blithely suggests that these judges are no more than partisan legislators expected to favor their own side of the debate.  Here's another possibility:  these judges are taking very seriously their role as impartial interpreters of the law in a case with major implications for every American, and their considered legal analysis did not lead them to the same result as they might have preferred if they were expressing their personal political opinioins.  If so, that's a good thing, as that's exactly how the system is supposed to work. 

Yes, even federal judges have political preferences, but most know that these need to be set aside when applying the law to the case before them.  Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and evaluate their decisions based on the strength of their reasoning and legal analysis, and not the party of the President who appointed them. 

Posted: 8/12/2011 12:45:56 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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