I was surprised to find out this week from LawSites that I may be one of only three judges in the United States who “blog.”
I am an appellate justice for a Native American tribe in Northern Nevada. I work for a sovereign nation that has its own court and code of laws but is bound to the United States by a complex series of federal laws and treaties. I formerly worked as a tribal court judge for another tribe.
I don’t blog about being a judge, per se, though that experience undoubtedly informs my blog.
I write about employment discrimination, workplace bullying and abuse – from a worker’s perspective. I began blogging after I took a job at a national domestic violence organization and became a target of a bullying supervisor. I have since written a book, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace.
I find it appalling that the United States is one of the few industrialized countries in the world that does not protect workers from workplace bullying, which is a widely recognized form of violence that can severely impact a target’s health, lead to physical violence, and costs society billions each year in lost work hours, higher medical costs, social services expenditures, etc.
Back to blogging judges …
It seems a shame to me that more judges don’t blog. Their silence supports the status quo, which works largely to benefit corporate interests, the powerful and the rich (who contribute to political campaigns).
I would argue that silence does not serve the judiciary. As Alexander Hamilton stated in The Federalist Papers, the judiciary is the weakest branch of government because it controls neither sword nor purse. The judiciary has utterly failed to make its case to American taxpayers for appropriate funding.
According to the American Bar Association, most states have cut court funding by at least ten percent in recent years. Many states have stopped filling judicial vacancies and/or laid off judges. Many states have frozen or cut the salaries of judges or staff, despite ever increasing caseloads. Many courts have reduced their opening hours or even close on some work days.
It’s almost like the painful post-Internet downfall of the Post Office, but there is no satisfactory alternative to the court system for the vast majority of Americans.
By its silence, the judiciary fails in particular to effectively champion the plight of people who need a just resolution of civil disputes. Civil courts are largely inaccessible to the poor and, increasingly, to the middle class. This has led to injustice on a massive scale. Meanwhile, taxpayers become more disillusioned, which makes the judiciary even weaker.
I suspect that some people find the judiciary to be arrogant and secretive – perhaps because its leaders on the U.S. Supreme Court refuse to allow their proceedings to be televised and it’s virtually impossible to work there unless you graduate from an Ivy League law school.
Also, judges seem to think – admittedly with some justification – that they will never be promoted if they voice a public opinion on anything that is more substantial than the weather.
But the biggest disservice that is done by the silence of the judiciary involves the public perception of the work of a judge.
Many people don’t realize that being a judge is really hard work. Imagine trying to make a good decision, with the clock running, rarely enough reliable information or too much conflicting information to be helpful, with emotions running high on both sides. Even if the stakes seem low to you or me, they are always high to the litigants.
A few years ago, a judge in Reno, NV, was shot while standing in his office through a plate glass window by a sniper crouched in a parking lot across the street from the courthouse. The sniper was a litigant in a divorce case who had just murdered his wife. The judge was presiding over that case.
A good judge must be strong enough to make the right decision when it does not serve that judge’s interests. When it goes against the grain of powerful people who feel entitled to more justice than they deserve. A good judge must be strong enough to do the right thing when it could alienate a campaign donor or someone with power over the judge. It can be like a politician from a “red” state who has to vote on gun control every day.
Justice is the elusive goal that good judges strive to reach in their deliberations. But justice is often a moving target. It can be difficult to find the bulls-eye. If you make a “mistake,” there is an appeals court that will point it out. Sometimes you make the right decision legally but you know in your heart that it isn’t right on a moral or human level. You don’t forget those cases.
There is so much about the judiciary that people don’t know because the judiciary has not told them. I think more judges blogging might help people understand that the course of justice is often imperfect, even when everyone is working in good faith toward a just resolution.
Knowing that so few judges blog makes me feel oddly vulnerable – like the soldier who stands up in a field while bullets whistle past. Alas, it may be time to give up any expectation of promotion to the federal bench.