As I travel around the state on the campaign trail, meeting and listening to Idahoans, the issue of activist judges continues to be brought to my attention.
There's no question that some judges are overstepping their bounds by legislating from the bench. Recently, we've seen judges around the country redefine the institution of marriage, overturning initiatives approved by overwhelming majorities. Courts have also attempted to eliminate the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, ban public prayer, and remove long-standing displays of the Ten Commandments from public property.
Most recently, a federal judge in Portland decided to put dam removal on the table in the regional salmon debate - despite Congress and the President having made clear that they will not tolerate such nonsense.
These are all important issues that should not be decided in court by a judge. Yet, there seems to be no end in sight to these abuses of judicial power.
Many prominent Idaho political leaders, including former Idaho Senator Jim McClure, have suggested some type of Congressional oversight of judges. I'm honored to be in such company.
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution allows such oversight and Congress periodically conducts hearings on the judiciary already. I advocate making greater, wiser use of this authority to help rein-in out-of-control, activist federal judges. Congress can and does provide oversight to help make sure the federal government runs better -- for the benefit of every American. It can also help expose bureaucrats -- and judges -- who have exceeded the bounds of their legitimate authority.
Frustrated citizens now advocate mandatory retirement ages or fixed terms for judges. Others call for the impeachment of activist federal judges. Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution specifies that federal judges "shall hold their offices during good behavior". To help identify instances where judges have failed to adhere to this Constitutional standard, I believe there should be some continued Congressional oversight after judges are appointed. Former Idaho Senator Jim McClure has suggested once every ten years as a reasonable "check-in" with individual judges. Without periodic oversight, the Judicial branch runs the entire show, with no accountability. The Legislative and Executive branches are elected by the people; federal judges are not. To maintain a representative democracy, as the founders intended, Congress must continue to be the check on the courts that was written into the Constitution more than two centuries ago.
I believe oversight of government bureaucrats and the federal judiciary is not only authorized by the Constitution, it is an essential component of our representative democracy.
(Norm Semanko is a Republican candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat being vacated by Representative Butch Otter in 2006)