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Judicial Independence: Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Alexander Hamilton argued that the success of constitutional government depended on a judiciary free from the influence of sudden shifts in public opinion. What dangers did Hamilton perceive in a judiciary subject to popular politics? Has the subsequent history of political debates on the judiciary confirmed or challenged Hamilton's argument?

Related documents: 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10

2. The Constitution grants Congress the authority to establish federal courts in addition to the Supreme Court and to determine most of the jurisdiction of all federal courts. Over the course of the nation's history, what kinds of congressional legislation related to the courts were considered a proper exercise of constitutional authority and what kinds of legislation were considered an improper interference with judicial independence?

Related documents: 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10

3. Representative Joseph Nicholson and former President Thomas Jefferson warned that a judiciary "beyond the control" or "independent" of the nation was a threat to a republican system of government. "Brutus" had expressed similar concerns during the ratification debates. What dangers did they see? How might defenders of the constitutional protections of judicial independence, from Alexander Hamilton to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 1937, have responded?

Related documents: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10

4. The rise of political parties in the late 1790s led to the first great debates on judicial independence. How did the contest between political parties threaten the constitutional provisions for judicial independence? What later party struggles challenged judicial independence?

Related documents: 3, 4, 8, 9, 10

5. William Howard Taft strongly defended the constitutional protections of judicial independence, but he also believed judges were responsible for maintaining public respect for the federal judiciary. How did Taft hope to ensure public trust in the judiciary? Throughout the nation's history, what has contributed to popular respect for and faith in the federal court system?

Related documents: 7, 8, 4, 10

6. When Franklin Roosevelt proposed to authorize the appointment of additional judges when sitting judges reached the age of 70, he provoked intense opposition, even from within his own party and from many who had advocated limited terms of office for judges. What explains the strength of the opposition to Roosevelt's "court-packing" plan? How did the plan challenge popular beliefs about judicial independence?

Related documents: 9, 10