Hastings Law Journal


Alexa J. Smith


The Framers of the Constitution struggled to balance the independence of the federal judiciary with the need for judicial accountability in cases of abuse or incapacity. To ensure judicial independence, the Framers granted federal judges life tenure and protected salaries, and to address judicial accountability, the Framers created the constitutional impeachment process. Congress codified further regulation of the judiciary and the impeachment process with the enactment of the Judicial Councils Act of 1980.

This Note reviews the current impeachment process as applied in the recent controversial impeachments of three federal judges and concludes that the Judicial Councils Act denies accused federal judges procedural due process. The author argues that the importance of these due process protections is heightened because of the Supreme Court's questionable use of the political question doctrine to avoid involvement in scrutinizing the impeachment process as implemented by Congress. The Note proposes that fairness in the impeachment process would be increased by providing for review of Judicial Council decisions, by opening investigation reports to public scrutiny, by creating a random selection process to address conflicts of interest of adjudicatory judges, and by the Supreme Court's consistent application of the political question doctrine.

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