editorial (2006-30)

Corker v. Ford

Let’s hope for such a Senate race, based on a broad range of issues

Lend Appeals Courts Full Judicial Respect

Corker v. Ford

As the Aug. 3 state primary election approaches, it becomes ever clearer that the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee shapes up as a contest between a thinking person’s candidate and two challengers who are intent on attacking him personally.

Bob Corker, the former Chattanooga mayor, whom we have previously endorsed for the GOP nomination, vainly attempts to stick to his agenda, a broad survey of issues facing the state and nation, while his opponents insist on peppering him rhetorically with slurs questioning his honesty and his conservatism.

We believe that Corker is honest in his approach to public service, that he maintains a mind open to legitimate debate on issues of the day, and that he is, if anything, too conservative for our tastes.

His nomination by his party, though, would seem to guarantee a general election in November that is practically devoid of mud-slinging and negativity, if he is to meet the likely Democratic nominee, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., whose candidacy we have also endorsed.

A contest between those two candidates should be a refreshing clash of ideas, rather than personalities. Each has a well thought out and polished view of the vital issues of our time, and the Nov. 7 outcome, which will replace Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, would appear to leave Tennesseans with a senator they can trust to bring a thoughtful and reasoned approach to the nation’s governance.

That is the best result any state can hope for in a senatorial election. There’s no place for attack-dog politics in the U.S. Senate, which we should still hope to call “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Lend Appeals Courts Full Judicial Respect

The survey was sent to 64 appeals court judges, including justices of the state Supreme Court. It asked for the judges’ legal views on such issues as same-sex marriage, abortion, the death penalty and other hot-button issues. Only four of those surveyed answered at all, and those answers were general in nature and not very instructive as to how those judges might rule on any issue.

The president of the organization seeking to gain information for use in elections—the appellate judges face an up or down vote by their constituencies every eight years—is state Sen. David Fowler, a Signal Mountain Republican. He called the refusal by most of the judges to discuss their personal legal and judicial positions on issues that might come before them “disrespectful” and “disappointing.”

On the contrary, the position taken by those judges, to review each case on its merits and to remain impartial, shows profound respect for all citizens of Tennessee, who should be anything but disappointed in that response.

The appellate courts should remain in the hands of such judges, keeping political sentiments and “family” (read “religious”) arguments out of the judicial mix, regardless of the political climate.

That the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that appellate judges may answer some questions put to them in the public realm does not license organizations to proffer such surveys and expect philosophical responses. Judicial canons of ethics and the bar’s code of conduct prevent judges from engaging in such discussions outside of court for good reason. Specific statements of philosophy could and should disqualify individual judges from hearing cases that rest on corresponding issues.

The railing of certain political factions against what they refer to pejoratively as “activist judges” who might interpret constitutional or legal questions in ways they disagree with is a load of crap. Everyone wants “activist” judges, so long as they act consistently in ways favorable to them.

In the long run, the gubernatorial appointment of appellate judges works to provide that those courts remain balanced, teetering on the fulcrum of political swings in the state’s electorate over time, not becoming loaded up with one set of political doctrines because of a short-term swing in a voting majority’s mood.

If a citizen or citizens’ group is seeking guidance in the up-down voting for a particular appellate judge, the judge’s record in ruling on appeals is available for review. That does not mean that judge would rule the same way in every case presented to his or her court. Every case brought to an appellate panel should be heard and decided individually, based on law and precedent. 

To ask judges to posit legal opinions on issues in advance of their hearings runs against the whole idea of our system of justice. It smacks of a state controlled by philosophy, rather than by law, and it is Sen. Fowler’s prodding of the judges and his reaction to their independence that is disrespectful and disappointing.