Judges Under Fire
On Nov. 15, Pace Law School and the NY State Judicial Institute to present panel on dire challenges to judicial independence threatening the rule of law
“An independent judiciary adhering to the rule of law is so fundamental to the successful functioning of a just society that 21st century Americans cannot conceive of a social order that does not recognize that basic principal,” wrote Justice Helen E. Freedman in the New York Law Journal about a much celebrated book by Justice Harold Baer. Yet, judicial independence and adherence to the rule of law requires constant vigilance, as Judge Baer’s book, Judges Under Fire: Human Rights, Independent Judges, and the Rule of Law, illustrates in six different stories spanning the globe over several centuries.
Justice Freedman, New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Justice Baer, U.S. District Judge for the State of New York, and Justice Alan Scheinkman, Chief Administrative Judge for the Ninth Judicial District, will discuss judicial independence and the rule of law at a program at Pace Law School on Tuesday, November 15. Moderated by Pace Law School Professor Jay Carlisle, this distinguished panel of judges will share personal struggles with challenges to independence. They will also discuss examples from around the world.
Challenges to judicial independence may be found in today’s news, as well, as several campaigning Republican presidential candidates have attacked the federal courts and the role they play. Rick Perry has called for term limits for Supreme Court justices; Michele Bachman and Ron Paul say they would forbid the court from deciding cases concerning same-sex marriage; and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have indicated they want to abolish the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, calling it a “rogue” court that is “consistently radical.”
A personal challenge to judicial independence
In his book, Justice Baer details the highly contested, widely covered ruling he made in 1995, less than a year after his appointment to the federal bench. The controversy centered on a motion granted by Justice Baer to suppress 80 pounds of heroin and cocaine with a street value of over $5 million that was obtained by stopping a car.
As Judge Freedman noted in her book review: “At the hearing, Judge Baer found that based on the testimony of the junior officer who claimed to have witnessed a drug transaction and the videotaped confession of the defendant, Carolyn Bayless, the police did not have reasonable suspicion sufficient for the arrest. […] In response to this ruling, two hundred members of Congress wrote to President Bill Clinton demanding that he seek Judge Baer’s resignation. White House spokesperson Michael McCurry weighed in with a threatening statement, but later changed course when Second Circuit Judges, led by Chief Judge Jon Newman, excoriated the other two branches of government for their clearly unconstitutional demands and pointed out how the criticism had reached a level that threatened judicial independence.”
In the end, Judge Baer reversed his ruling following a rehearing during which the government presented a fuller case and the defendant inexplicably took the stand. Judge Baer was criticized for this decision, as well.
Date: November 15, 5-5:30 p.m. Registration and Reception; 5:30-7 p.m. Panel discussion (CLE program)
Location: New York State Judicial Institute (Lecture Hall)
Pace Law School campus
84 North Broadway, White Plains
Free and open to the public. Judge Baer’s book will be available for purchase prior to the event.