Judges to talk about challenges to judicial independence

A federal judge and two state judges will take center stage at Pace University School of Law on Tuesday, Nov. 15 to share their personal struggles with challenges their judicial independence and other political challenges to judges around the world.

U.S District Judge Harold Baer, New York Appellate Justice Helen E. Freedman and 9th Judicial District Administrative Judge Alan Scheinkman will lead the 90-minute discussion starting at 5:30 p.m. at the New York State Judicial Institute on the law school campus, 84 North Broadway in White Plains. The event is free and open to the public, and a reception will be held a half-hour prior to the panel discussion.

The panel discussion will spotlight Baer’s new book, “Judges Under Fire: Human Rights, Independent Judges, and the Rule of Law.” The book includes his controversial 1995 decision to suppress evidence of 80 pounds of heroin and cocaine worth more than $5 million that was obtained by stopping a car, after finding that the police did not have reasonable suspicion sufficient for the arrest. His decision prompted 200 members of Congress to demand that President Bill Clinton ask Baer to resign. Baer later reversed his ruling after the government presented a fuller case and the defendant took the stand.

The federal courts in particular have come under attack this year by Republican presidential candidates. According to the New York Times, “Gov. Rick Perry of Texas favors term limits for Supreme Court justices. Representatives Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas say they would forbid the court from deciding cases concerning same-sex marriage. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania want to abolish the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, calling it a ‘rogue’ court that is ‘consistently radical.’” The Supreme Court has been the target of liberal criticism as well, following its ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which lifted a national ban on corporate spending in political campaigns by finding that such spending was protected free speech.

I’m told that the judges will stay away from politics in their discussions on Tuesday.