No Comment — June 29, 2009, 10:56 am

Judges Above the Law

The chief judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals acted preemptively in an apparent effort to head off challenges to his colleague, torture lawyer turned judge Jay Bybee. On Friday, public interests groups in California filed a judicial misconduct complaint against Bybee based on his focal role in creating legal memoranda designed to protect torturers against criminal prosecution. Judge Alex Kozinski handed down a decision stating that judges of the court of appeals could not be held accountable for any crimes they may have committed before they came on the bench—at least not through the court’s own internal disciplinary mechanisms. Bybee had prepared the torture memoranda for the Department of Justice while his nomination to the federal bench was in the process of being cleared, and some critics have seen evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement under which he prepared the memoranda in order to get the appointment as a federal judge. Bybee is now the subject of a criminal investigation in the Spanish Audiencia Nacional—making him the first American federal appeals court judge to continue on the bench after becoming the subject of a criminal proceeding. John Roemer of the Daily Journal reports:(subscription required)

As pressure grows to discipline 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jay S. Bybee for drafting memos authorizing controversial interrogation practices, the circuit’s Chief Judge, Alex Kozinski, published an unusual misconduct order Wednesday that appeared to rule out any action against Bybee for activities he took before being appointed to the federal bench. The order, which doesn’t mention Bybee by name, cited a 1986 order by former Chief Judge James R. Browning considering whether federal judges can be disciplined by the federal courts for acts committed prior to their appointments to the judiciary. The short answer was no.

“The judicial branch has no constitutional role in considering the fitness of an individual to assume judicial office,” Browning wrote. “Congress noted the differing roles of the coordinate branches in relation to judicial fitness, and recognized that ‘because of the separation of powers principle established by the Constitution, these roles must remain separate.’”

The position advanced by Kozinski provides a parallel to arguments advanced by the Bush and Obama Administrations under which their operatives have complete immunity for criminal misconduct relating to the torture issue. Apparently, judges have immunity for their misconduct as well. As America’s legal system is evolving, those who exercise positions of privilege and power are not held to account for even the most serious violations of the criminal law. Accountability, it seems, is reserved strictly for the small fry.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Article
Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Article
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer

Number of African countries with vaccination rates higher than that of the United States:

16

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A farmer in Surrey, England, was ordered by the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to tear down his cannon-equipped castle, which he had built secretly and then concealed behind hay bales.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today