DRI Celebrates Law Day
CHICAGO – (May 1, 2012) – On February 5, 1958, President Eisenhower proclaimed that May 1 of each year would be Law Day. He stated “In a very real sense, the world no longer has a choice between force and law.” DRI and it’s more than 22,000 members proudly celebrate the 54th Law Day with a renewed commitment to the preservation of our judicial system.
“Unwarranted criticism on our judges, failure to fund courts, increased scrutiny and the like are detrimental to the health of the law and to our justice system. On Law Day, it is imperative that we change the tides and end this trend,” said DRI President Henry Sneath. DRI’s report Without Fear or Favor in 2011, examines a vast array of issues affecting judicial independence and accountability, explaining how judicial campaign contributions and attack ads are polarizing the judiciary and compromising the appearance of fairness in our court systems.
The report – with “A New Decade of Challenges” and its underlying theme – proposes a number of solutions. DRI recommends the automatic disqualification of judges who accept campaign contributions above a specific threshold, the establishment of procedures for handling disqualification motions by a judge different than the one who is subject of the recusal motion and expanding the use of non-partisan judicial performance evaluations to help educate voters and promote a less politicized electoral process. DRI also recommends increased diversity in the judicial ranks to better ensure that decisions are perceived to be fair.
Not just concerned with the appearance of fairness of the judicial process, the DRI report also shows with unlimited campaign contributions to judges running for election or retention, how the conduct of judicial elections has significantly degraded. DRI is an organization dedicated to the fairness of our civil justice system; we feel that it is all the more incumbent on us to unequivocally decry the abusive impact that campaign contributions have on our system of justice.
DRI’s report chronicles the ongoing impact of the recession on the judiciary. It notes that states have resorted to periodically closing their courts, eliminating programs, imposing unpaid furloughs, reducing court hours and staffs – dubbing these collective cutbacks an improper “rationing of justice.” “Our courts have to be open to all in our society to use to resolve their disputes” added Steve Puiszis, editor of Without Fear or Favor, and chair of DRI’s Judicial Task Force. In some parts of the country, counties do not have sufficient funds to hold jury trials in civil cases. “State courts have been hit especially hard by legislators looking to slash budgets. Systems are stagnating, and public awareness of the problem is unfortunately very low,” said Puiszis.
Finally, DRI’s Without Fear or Favor looks at the overall tone of public discourse surrounding judicial decisions, citing the Internet as a venue increasingly hostile to judges and the judicial system. Indeed, the net effect is to significantly increase the need for tighter courthouse security. “The time to act is now,” Puiszis said. “DRI invites other organizations and concerned observers to join us in a shared effort to defend and preserve our besieged court system.”
DRI created the Judicial Task Force in 2005 to address problems threatening the viability of the American judicial system. DRI’s first Without Fear or Favor report was published in 2007. To read the report, go to http://www.dri.org/News/JudicialTaskForce.