The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday concerns the responsibilities of judges. The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is scheduled to start tomorrow. She released the opening statement that she will give tomorrow, and her opener includes her description of a judge’s responsibilities are.
Courts have a vital responsibility to enforce the rule of law, which is critical to a free society. But courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life. The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the People. The public should not expect courts to do so and courts should not try.
That is the approach I have strived to follow as a judge on the Seventh Circuit. In every case, I have carefully considered the arguments presented by the parties, discussed the issues with my colleagues on the court, and done my utmost to reach the result required by the law, whatever my own preferences might be. I try to remain mindful that, while my court decides thousands of cases a year, each case is the most important one to the parties involved. After all, cases are not like statutes, which are often named for their authors. Cases are named for the parties who stand to gain or lose in the real world, often through their liberty or livelihood.
According to Barrett’s statement, she understands that judges do not have the responsibility to make the laws or to solve the problems of society. Their job is to “enforce the rule of law,” something that is “critical to a free society.” She understands that the President, Vice President, Senators, and Representatives are elected by the people and accountable to the people, whereas judges are not. Judges are appointed for life and are expected to rise above the clamor of politics. Their duty is to understand what the law says and to make judgments according to the law.
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