I write in response to letters in Wednesday Journal, May 7, criticizing state Senator Don Harmon’s vote against the proposal to add a recall provision to the Illinois Constitution.
The proposed amendment was flawed in many respects. First among those was the provision that would have allowed recall of judges. If adopted, this proposal would have seriously threatened the independence of our courts. It could have put judges into the untenable position of looking over their shoulders to test the political winds when asked to rule on controversial subjects.
Such a situation would have threatened the basic premise of the judicial articles of the Illinois and U.S. constitutions that the judiciary should be free of political influences so judges can rule upon the facts presented and the applicable law.
Moreover, the proposed recall amendment would have directly conflicted with Section 15 of the Judicial Article of the Illinois Constitution (Art. VI, Sec. 15), which specifies a detailed mechanism for investigating allegations of misconduct by judges and of imposing discipline.
The Illinois Supreme Court has clearly stated the importance of an independent judiciary: “It is a basic precept of our Constitutional form of Republican Government that the judiciary is an independent and co-equal Branch of Government, along with the Executive and Legislative Branches.” Jorgensen v. Blagojevich, 211 Ill.2d 286, 313 (2004) quoting Commonwealth ex rel. Carroll v. Tate, 442 Pa. 45, 51-51 (1971).
The United States Supreme Court has explained that the concept of judicial independence is to keep judges free from the coercive influences of the executive or legislative branches of the government. People ex rel Toth v. Quarles, 350 U.S. 11, 16 (1955). The recall amendment would have directly threatened and undermined the essential independence of our Illinois courts.
Notwithstanding the above threat to a fair and independent judiciary, the proposed amendment that was defeated in the Senate was wrong as a matter of policy. I do not argue that recall of elected officials is necessarily a bad idea. Rather, I argue that it is wrong to adopt any amendment to the constitution in the midst of heated emotions targeting one individual or one particular issue or through a sense of frustration over the gridlock that has impacted the legislative process in Springfield.
The constitution should be a broad statement of policy, kept free from the changing winds and whims of politics. To recommend or adopt a constitutional amendment in the midst of emotional debate over the job performance of a single individual, frustration over legislative gridlock, or to thwart a particular political issue, defeats the basic purpose of a constitution to be a broad road map to guide how our government is to operate.
Therefore, Senator Harmon’s vote against the recall amendment was the correct vote at this time. I wholeheartedly support his decision.
Alfred M. Swanson, Jr.