July 2007 Bar Bulletin
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July 2007 Bar Bulletin

Judicial Independence Stays in Spotlight

By Charles K. Wiggins


In 1780, John Adams drafted substantial portions of a new constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including Article XXIX of the Declaration of Rights:

It is essential to the preservation of the rights of every individual, his life, liberty, property, and character, that there be an impartial interpretation of the laws, and administration of justice. It is the right of every citizen to be tried by judges as free, impartial and independent as the lot of humanity will admit.1

What does it mean for a judge to be as "independent as the lot of humanity will admit?" What threatens judicial independence in Washington today? And what is being done about it?

There is little serious debate that judges must be independent. But there is disagreement from whom they must be independent. In an editorial published in 2005, Seattle attorney Jeff Frank warned that judicial independence is threatened by special interest money flooding into judicial elections.2 Gov. Christine Gregoire sounded a similar warning.3 A very different viewpoint was expressed by Justice Richard Sanders: "[N]o private person or group can possibly threaten judicial independence because the independence about which we speak is independence from the executive and legislative branches of government - not independence from the private sector."4

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