Fair and Impartial Justice
Thomas Jefferson wrote that “the most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.” Indeed, this duty is listed first at the beginning of our constitution: “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.” Justice is one of the pillars upon which our government stands, and a fair and impartial judiciary is essential to democracy, upholding our rights under the constitution.
What is meant by the words “fair, impartial, justice?” Their meaning becomes clear when the judiciary resolves disputes free from improper outside influence, self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism while applying the rule of law to the facts of cases, treating or affecting all equally with effective due process. To do this, the judiciary must uphold the highest level of integrity in all its actions. A critical element in achieving and preserving fair and impartial justice is judicial independence.
Judicial independence, meaning a court system that works without improper outside influences, is a hallmark of our nation's democratic system of government. The courts' function in our democracy is to protect the rights of all (individuals, corporations, governments, etc.), whether or not they have a voice in the political arena, not simply to reflect the will of the majority. In order for justice to be done for everyone – the majority and minorities alike – judges must be able to act free of the pressures of politics, politicians, the electorate, and special-interest groups. Judges must also be able to rule without fear of reprisal. The credibility of the judiciary, and ultimately the public's confidence in and support of the courts as an institution, depend both on judges' independence from outside influence and on accurate public perception of this judicial independence. Judicial independence is so important that it is a fundamental reason for the constitution's creation of the three separate branches of government. Furthermore, the constitution provides safeguards to ensure that judges are able to rule fairly and impartially on the individual cases that come before them (e.g., lifetime appointments for federal district judges, with salaries that cannot be reduced).
The Clerk's Office has a major role in creating and controlling the optimal environment for judges to work independently:
- achieving efficient operations through the accurate, timely, and autonomous management of the court's budget, records, and infrastructure (engendering public satisfaction and deterring intrusion by other branches of government);
- making proper case-related assignments (ensuring that no judge-shopping or other improprieties occur);
- applying procedural rules appropriately (treating all citizens alike, no matter who they are);
- supporting the Code of Conduct and its ethical standards (maintaining the highest standards of personal and professional conduct so as to be above reproach);
- working with other agencies to ensure a high level of security (deterring those who would improperly influence the court);
- performing functions that free the judges and their staffs to concentrate on legal work (performing such duties as statistical record-keeping, procurement, and facilities management); etc.
When we work with executive branch agencies (such as the U.S. Attorney, U.S. Trustee, police agencies, and GSA), the media, the bar, and the public, we must be vigilant to preserve the court as an independent institution, including protecting our judges from improper contact or influences. All Clerk's Office employees affect the level of judicial independence of the court in almost every work function. And, since judicial independence is crucial to the judiciary’s ability to be fair and impartial, it is easy to see how our actions take on extreme importance.
From the founding of our government to today, the judiciary has been a fundamental pillar of our nation's democratic institutions. High performance by the Clerk’s Office is critical to our court’s ability to achieve fair and impartial justice, as well as providing excellent service to fulfill the public's trust in us as public servants.