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Monday, November 14, 2005

I don’t see any major discussion going on anywhere about what’s happening in North Dakota and seven other states - but it’s a scary happening and it needs to be talked about.

I first heard about this on the radio. I forget who - but I think it was one of the Air America crowd talking to someone in North Dakota who I think was an elected official. You’ll have to forgive me. I don’t listen that closely to the radio when I’m busy doing something else. Often it’s no more than background noise. But enough of the story caught my ear to pull up the web site that says what it’s all about. JAIL. No, not the hoosegow meaning of jail. It’s J.A.I.L - . Judicial Accountability Initiative Law. An idea that must be making the likes of Bill Frist and To DeLay salivate.

From my reading of this proposed amendment to the North Dakota Constitution, some group of nuts wants to do away with the independence of the judiciary by allowing anyone involved in a court case who doesn’t like the way a judge ruled or acted - like ruling against them- to file a complaint against that judge that will be reviewed by a special grand jury and if that grand jury finds that the complaint has merit - it can mark a "strike" against that judge. Three strikes and that judge is out!! Gone!! Removed from the bench. We the jury, answering to nobody, don’t like the way you’ve been judging, so your judging days are over.

I don’t know whether or not this will go anywhere. There’s opposition of course and here’s one example of back and forth dialog that I found on line.

I have to admit that while I called the people who are pushing this proposition a group of nuts, I had a moment of hesitation during which I thought about a couple of judges in my neck of the woods that I’d love to see removed by some kind of grand jury with that kind of power because I know they’ll never be removed by voting them out of office. In election after election, local newspapers publish the appraisals of multiple bar associations and add their own comments about "judges" who shouldn’t be cleaning the floors of courtrooms let alone sitting on benches. But year after year, dead heads with the right to vote keep punching O.K. next to names that appeal to them. There’s one local judicial wannabe who has actually changed his name to a good old fashioned Irish name because candidates with Irish names seem to get elected more often than those with names of other nationalities. But as I said, my hesitation was momentary. I do not think it’s a good idea to infringe in this way upon the independence of the judiciary.

The judges that they’re talking about in North Dakota aren’t the kind that Tom DeLay and Bill Frist and others like criticize with veiled threats of "consequences" for decisions that they don’t agree with. The DeLay- Frist crowd are after Federal judges who have lifetime appointments and could never be removed in the way that supporters of J.A.I.L. propose that elected judges be removed. But what is worrisome is the attempt to have non-judicial "oversight" over any branch of the judiciary. As I indicated, there are other states with similar proposals in the offing organized by the same group of nuts. The J.A.I.L. movement appears to be national with customization of proposals available for individual states and with constitutional amendment proposals for seven states listed on their web site. North Dakota would make eight. If any one of these should succeed, I can envision a full court press by the far right wing to exert these kinds of measures of control over judges nationally - and perhaps look for ways to extend it to the Federal bench.

The original idea for J.A.I.L. was put together in 1995 - and as you can see, it hasn’t taken hold anywhere in a ten year period and if I’d come across it when it first surfaced, I wouldn’t have worried too much about it ever getting beyond the idea stage. But these are different times. These are times when efforts are increasing to get "intelligent design" into school science programs - on a par with Evolution . These are times when there is a push to extend religious observance into the school day in other ways. And these are times when there is an ongoing effort to intertwine religion and politics.

A quick look at the J.A.I.L. web site reveals that it’s founder, Ron Branson, graduated from two Bible Institutes, is an ordained minister and co-founder of the "Granada Forum" - a right wing "patriot" group, known to host well known anti-Semitic lecturers such as " Eustace Mullins.

Connecting the dots between the J.A.I.L. organization and other movements determined to inject their personal philosophies into and gain a measure of control over our courts - and you have a scenario that I don’t think can be easily dismissed with laughter and a sad shake of the head. These people are serious and believe in the righteousness of their cause. They have very different ideas from what you and I believe - I assume all who read this blog are sane - about what kind of country this should be. And it’s not the one we know - or think we know.

If the idea to find a better way to deal with bad judges and obviously nutty judicial decisions than the methods that currently exist had been suggested by some other group or some other individual, I might have greeted it with a less jaundiced attitude. But this group and its founder sound positively scary.

I think it’s worth while keeping tabs on the J.A.I.L. site and see how many more of these petitions to amend state constitutions might be added. And it might be interesting to find out if Bill Frist and/or Tom DeLay or anyone else at the high end of the Republican party have an opinion on the merits of the idea. Because if they like it and would say so publicly, it could be great fodder for next year’s Congressional campaigns. Even if they wouldn’t voice an opinion - Democrats running in the seven states listed on the J.A.I.L. site - eight if you include North Dakota - should make it an issue and challenge their Republican opponents to take a stand - for or against the proposition.