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Commentaries and editorials

We Can Rein in Federal Judges

by Norm Semanko
Lewiston Tribune, June 12, 2005

At the congressional hearing on dam removal held in Clarkston on Monday, I testified about the significant and devastating effect the ruling of one activist federal judge could have on Idaho's economy by deciding to draw down the river and take water from Idaho.

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.

Many prominent Idaho political leaders, including former Idaho Sen. Jim McClure and former Lewiston state Rep. Dan Mader, have suggested some type of congressional oversight of judges. I'm honored to be in such company.

Jim Fisher argues that a constitutional amendment would be needed to allow congressional oversight of federal judges [editorial, May 22]. This is just not the case. Article I, Section 8 of the 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.

Under Fisher's argument, since the executive branch is also independent of the legislative branch, federal agencies should be immune from oversight hearings by Congress. I know first hand from my experience working for Sen. Larry Craig as a field representative in Lewiston and in his Washington, D.C., office that this is just not the case. In fact, I spent a significant amount of my time during those five years ensuring -- i.e. overseeing -- that the federal agencies followed through on their obligations to Idaho -- experience I plan to utilize as Idaho's next congressman.

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.

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. We've also had courts attempt 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.

And now, a federal judge in Portland has taken it upon himself to put dam removal on the table in the regional salmon debate -- despite the fact that Congress and the president have made clear that they will not tolerate such nonsense. Such a radical measure would end all shipping from the Port of Lewiston, disable northern Idaho's important agricultural economy, cost the Lewiston-Clarkston area $36 million in earnings and more than 1,600 jobs, increase operation costs at Potlatch Corp. and increase the Northwest's relatively low power costs.

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 Idahoans have expressed concern to me about this disturbing trend -- and rightly so. Frustrated by these decisions, some folks have advocated mandatory retirement ages or fixed terms for judges. Others have called for the impeachment of activist federal judges.

Under Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution, 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 Sen. McClure has suggested once every 10 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.

Fisher questions why I would tackle such a difficult issue as a first-term congressman. That's simple. I am a serious congressional candidate intent on listening to and finding solutions to the problems facing Idaho citizens.

The issue of activist federal judges has been brought to my attention as a major concern. 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 Rep. Butch Otter in 2006.
Turnabout; We Can Rein in Federal Judges
Lewiston Tribune, June 12, 2005

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