Lets see if Frist, Hastert or DeLay will ever acknowledge this.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist used the occasion last week of his 19th, and potentially final, report on the state of the federal courts to extend his proud record of defending the independence of the federal judiciary against intrusive attacks by politicians.
Without naming names, Chief Justice Rehnquist spoke of a troubling "new turn" in recent years that has seen some conservative Republicans in Congress cross the line from ordinary criticism of judicial decisions they do not like to trying to intimidate individual judges. In the process, they show disrespect to the constitutional separation of powers and threaten the essential role of an independent judiciary in protecting American rights.
Without singling out the House majority leader Tom DeLay and others, Chief Justice Rehnquist expressed appropriate concern over recent calls by some members of the last Congress for laws limiting the jurisdiction of federal courts to decide constitutional challenges on matters like the use of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. He was also duly critical of threats to impeach so-called "activist" judges for their interpretations of the Constitution.
"A judge's judicial acts may not serve as a basis for impeachment," the chief justice, author of a 1992 book on this theme, stated in a timely reminder to the reconvening Congress. "Any other rule would destroy judicial independence. Instead of trying to apply the law fairly, regardless of public opinion, judges would be concerned about inflaming any group that might be able to muster the votes in Congress to impeach and convict them."
This is a message that Chief Justice Rehnquist, much to his credit, has delivered time and again as head of the nation's court system, even at the risk of offending fellow conservatives. But given current political tensions over the future direction of the federal courts, it has special resonance right now.