Judicial immunity has been covered here on Copblock from time to time. Perhaps the most notorious and flagrantly offensive case involving judicial immunity would be Stump v. Sparkman, wherein a judge conspired with a young girl’s mother to have her secretly sterilized. When she found out years later, after she was married, that she could not have children because of this, she tried to sue Judge Stump, her mother, and the physician involved. The Supreme Court of the United States reaffirmed that Judge Stump was cloaked by judicial immunity, and was not subject to civil suit. Most notably, the Supreme Court majority opinion in Stump graced us all with this self-serving piece of wisdom –
As early as 1872, the Court recognized that it was “a general principle of the highest importance to the proper administration of justice that a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, [should] be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself.”
Read: for justice to be administered, judges should be free to act as they please, without consequences. Under almost any circumstances. Is this shit for real? Unfortunately, yes it is. They really do think the rest of us are that stupid. Let’s have that again – for there to be justice, judges should be free to do whatever they want without suffering personal consequences.
Most recently, a case somewhat less heinous, but almost as bizarre as Stump emerged. A district judge in Oklahoma sentenced a 17-year-old boy to 10 years of church attendance in connection with a DUI and manslaughter charge. Judge Mike Norman gave Tyler Alred a 10-year deferred sentence for DUI manslaughter.
Norman acknowledged he did not believe his sentence would pass a legal challenge, but relies on the fact that he has done it in the past and does not believe either side will seek an appeal (more here). Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the ACLU has expressed concern that the judge admitted to making an illegal decision.
To be fair, this defendant is not blameless. Further, when forced to choose, most people would easily accept 10 years of church attendance over several years in prison, which is common for manslaughter sentencing. Yet, this is certainly another example of how judges do not necessarily uphold the law. If they are so inclined, they make and enforce law as they see fit. With full judicial immunity, they are indeed very free to make up rules they like, and dispense with the ones they don’t. So you may not see the big deal about making a kid go to church, but surely you should have a problem when judges go around ordering that people be sterilized without their knowledge.
These are the people tasked with upholding your legal rights. They have largely unrestrained power, and in many situations, the only thing keeping them from totally ruining peoples’ lives is their conscience. In contrast, there are many deterrents restraining ordinary people from amassing and abusing this kind of power. For instance, if a store or business provides bad service or maintains abusive practices, customers are free to leave and shop elsewhere. Many business fail and never recover for this very reason. Drivers, dentists, physicians, or businesses that are negligent and injure people can be sued for their negligence (whereas judges cannot be sued – even if they are not only negligent, but reckless or malicious).
The forcible monopoly maintained in the American court system (and court systems in general) would be akin to outlawing all but one grocery store, prohibiting competition, and hoping against all hope that this one monopoly of a grocery store will not hike up prices, provide bad service, and treat customers poorly.
To believe that handing over large monopolistic powers to people without restraint constitutes a functioning fair system is about as reasonable as the belief in Santa Claus or unicorns. Yet, people continue to insist that this is the best system there is, and possibly can be.
Well, I suppose Alred should be thankful that Judge Norman didn’t order that he be sterilized.