The subject of judicial misconduct having come up recently in local conversation, the following American Thinker article from last year provides some additional thinking/acting points.
The Constitution only allows federal judges to serve during “good behavior.” This “good behavior” limitation on judicial tenure derives from one of the oldest and most well-established legal principles of our founding and English legal history. This limitation on appointed officials holding office pervades our founding revolutionary-era state constitutions. It’s time for Trump to consider activating the power of the political branches to fire badly behaving judges. Time to drain the judicial swamp.
Recent Obama appointees, including associates of Obama since law school, earned the enmity of a wide range of legal and scholastic critics over their travel ban rulings. How bad was it? Even #NeverTrumpers and liberal lawyers came out in a chorus of condemnation against the Hawaii and Maryland judicial actions. #NeverTrump lawyer David French, lawyers at National Review, and liberal-leaning law professor Jonathan Turley each criticized the decision. Liberal Democratic law professor Alan Dershowitz noted that the judges would have never done this to Obama, even if the executive order was identical. Anti-Trump critic David Frum of the Atlantic criticized the decision. Even five Ninth Circuit judges, sua sponte, amended their prior statements to criticize these judges’ actions as without precedent.
Why the unison of condemnation? Because, as one law professor noted, much of the Hawaii judge’s actions were based on judicial acts of “misleading.” That’s polite, diplomatic, I-might-be-in-front-of-that-judge-someday way of saying that some of these anti-Trump, anti-travel ban judges were not honest. If private lawyers had acted the way these judges did, they could be sanctioned and could lose their license and livelihoods, be thrown out of court, or even charged with a crime. That is why Judge Alex Kozinski authored two amendments to his prior dissent to specifically criticize the basis of the Hawaii judge’s ruling.
What can Trump or Congress do about it, if they believe these federal judges exceeded their authority and engaged in disreputable conduct?
The Constitution provides two restrictions on the tenure of a federal judge: first, if they misuse or abuse their office, then the Constitution, under Article II, section 4, authorizes Congressional quasi-criminal remedies of impeachment. The impeachment provision applies to the President “and all civil officers of the United States” whenever their conduct constitutes “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Historically, the latter provision has been rejected for purely private conduct. That is why both Alexander Hamilton and Richard Nixon were not impeached for either tax evasion or financial misdeeds, though both were accused of one or the other. Bill Clinton successfully argued against conviction on the grounds his perjury, though in office, derived from a purely personal matter, rather than a presidential one.The Constitution provides a second, separate restriction on the tenure of a federal judge: Article III of the Constitution limits a judge’s tenure to continuous “good behavior…”
…Still, both the language and the weight of historical evidence indicate that the Good Behavior Clause was intended to refer to life tenure rather than to a distinct standard for removal. However, just as the Good Behavior Clause reminds the other branches that the judiciary is truly independent, it also reminds judges that life tenure is not a license for the wanton or the corrupt. It is in this sense both a shield and a sword—an affirmation of judicial independence and a reservation for judicial removal.