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When I first arrived in Pecos more than one person told me that the
city is full of colorful characters. So far I've found that to be very
true. Colorful characters make for interesting writing and reading.
In my first week here I had an extended conversation with a local
public official who is one of those colorful characters. During our talk
this official stated the opinion that reporters could not be objective.
This person may have been trying to turn our conversation into a
friendly argument. However, there was no argument because I agreed.
We've probably all seen examples of reporters with obvious biases to
their writing in an article or their speech on the television or radio.
Then there is the much touted "liberal agenda" in the media. Sometimes
that's very obvious.
Every once in a while you can spot a reporter with a conservative
slant, but that's pretty rare.
But even the reporters who try to be fair rarely attain true
objectivity. I think objectivity is almost impossible for any human to
Objectivity means to exist outside individual thought or feeling and to
present facts without distortion. I don't know how a person can exist
outside his or her individual thoughts or feelings. As for presenting
facts without distortion, just ask any policeman about the different
versions he gets from well-intentioned witnesses to the same event.
When any of us witness an event it is colored by our own conceptions of
what we think should happen in that circumstance.
Our individual perceptions influence the opinions we form and the
actions we take.
I'm my own best example of how perceptions influence actions. I have
trouble recognizing some colors. Therefore, I don't always pick the best
combinations of shirts, pants, socks and ties to wear together. I'm told
I can come up with some weird combinations.
Yes, I'm one of those men whose wife has to pick out his clothing. She
practically has to dress me. My wife hasn't followed me out to Pecos yet
so I'm living dangerously every morning when I pick out my clothes for
Just like I try my best to pick out clothes that don't clash each day,
I will also try my best to write articles that are fair and objective
about the colorful people in Pecos.
Hopefully, because I am new to Pecos, I can write articles about what I
observe without preconceived ideas. As I write for the Pecos Enterprise
I will try to present the facts and the people as I see them.
Sometimes you might see them differently. If you do, let me know. Maybe
you can show me something I didn't see before.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rick Smith is an Enterprise writer and city editor whose
column appears each Monday.
Now, some members of Congress seem poised to destroy this delicate
balance by attempting to use the process of impeachment - or, at least,
the threat of impeachment - to impose the will of Congress on the
judiciary. The Majority Whip of the House of Representatives has been
quoted in media interviews naming specific federal judges targeted for
In high school civics class we learn that the U.S. Constitution
provides that public officials can be impeached only for "Treason,
Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors."
None of the judges identified and targeted for impeachment in the
current proposal have been accused of treason or any other criminal act.
Rather, they have been singled out because of highly publicized rulings
they have made, rulings with which the Majority Whip and some in
Congress do not agree.
Imagine if the standard for impeaching other officials were simply
disagreement over decisions or judgments. Members of Congress could
impeach other members simply because they did not agree with their
voting records. And Congress could impeach the President of the United
States over a policy disagreement. The Congress would be so tied up in
these activities that it would make our current system of "gridlock"
look very attractive.
The use or threatened use of impeachment as a means to express
disagreement with a particular decision is unprecedented in the history
of the United States. The process of impeaching a federal official was
intended by the Founders to be difficult. In the entire history of our
nation, the House of Representatives has voted to impeach a federal
judge only 13 times; only seven federal judges have actually been
convicted in a trial before the Senate and removed from office.
More important, in more than 200 years no federal judge has ever been
removed from office because Congress disagreed with the judge's judicial
philosophy or with a particular decision. Let's not begin now to trample
on the constitutional rights of American citizens.
Impeachments based on policy differences would interject chaos into our
court system. Judges, whom we expect to decide cases based on a careful
examination of the facts and thoughtful analysis of applicable law,
would be subjected instead to the vagaries of shifting political
currents. Decisions and opinions that result from days of hearings,
hours of legal research and a great deal of careful scrutiny would then
be dissected into sound bites and campaign commercials to be used in an
impeachment proceeding or in the next election cycle. Any federal judge
threatened with this sort of partisan bashing might be tempted to act on
matters not based on the applicable law; rather, the standard might
become the prevailing winds of political popularity. This is not the
justice system the American people want or deserve. This is a partisan
The fact is that our Founders intended for our courts to operate
independently, to be a check on the temporarily popular. The courts'
independence was constructed in order to assure that minority rights are
protected against popular and powerful interests. The history of our
nation is marked with examples of our courts working independently, free
from political intrusion and oversight, to lead our nation in times of
need -in ending the vicious practices of desegregation, in extending
voting rights to all Americans, and in protecting average citizens from
unwarranted government intrusion. This is a record deserving our great
The genius of the American system of government is the delicate balance
that has been crafted between and among the three independent branches.
Moving to impeach judges for individual decisions - a kind of
legislative referendum on judicial decision-making - threatens to
destroy this delicately crafted balance. In a sense, it would mark a
departure for our nation -a ripping up of our Constitution and all its
values. It is a recipe for disaster that could pull the plug on our
It appears that some members of Congress who disagree with some
judicial decisions are threatening to impeach the federal judges who
rendered those decisions. According to newspaper accounts, these members
of Congress believe it is a way to "send a message to federal judges."
Is threatened impeachment a good way to "send a message" to a federal
To attempt to use the impeachment process to "send a message" is not
only irresponsible but demonstrates either ignorance of or a total lack
of regard for our Constitution. In fact, the only message such an action
sends to federal judges is that if they issue unpopular rulings, they
could be threatened with disgrace and removal from-office for doing
precisely what they are supposed to be doing - rendering decisions in
cases or controversies properly before them by applying the laws of the
land and the Constitution, even if the result is a decision that does
not reflect popular opinion!
Can federal judges be impeached for making bad decisions?
In August 1993, the National Commission on Judicial Discipline and
Removal, a commission created by Congress, reported that Congress has
removed judges for various forms of official and personal misconduct,
but that it has not done so because it disagreed with the outcome of
cases. And in 1986, Rep. Kastenmeier, as Chairman of the House Judiciary
Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of
Justice, said, "Federal judges should not and cannot be impeached for
judicial decision-making, even if a decision is an erroneous one. The
conduct complained about - entering a judgment and order - is an act
that judges are required to do under the Constitution.... If this was
otherwise the impeachment remedy would become merely another avenue for
What does constitute grounds for impeachment?
"Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" are the only
grounds for impeachment provided in the Constitution. The separate
provision in Article III that "judges shall hold their office during
Good Behaviour" has never been considered a basis for removal, but
rather a guarantee of independence for an indefinite term. It has never
been used as a separate standard for impeachment. While "high crimes and
misdemeanors" are not limited to indictable offenses, it is clear that a
judge issuing an opinion is doing his or her job, not committing a
crime. As Rep. Kastenmeier said, "A judicial decision (right or wrong),
standing alone, cannot rise to the level of a 'high crime or
Are judges accountable for their decisions?
Judges are required to explain their decisions in writing, which
subjects them to public and professional scrutiny. Their decisions are
subject to appellate review, and reversal if errors were made that
affected the outcome of the case. If a litigant feels that a judge has
made an error in deciding the case, a separate, impartial panel of
judges will review the record and make its own independent decision.
Also, judges can be and are disciplined by their judicial councils for
misconduct or mental disability.
Have any federal judges ever been impeached?
In the entire history of our nation, the House of Representatives has
voted to impeach only 13 federal judges. Only 11 judges were actually
tried, and only seven were convicted and removed from office. No judge
has ever been removed from office because Congress has disagreed with
the judge's judicial philosophy or with a particular decision. Three
impeachments between 1986 and 1989, of District Court judges Alcee
Hastings, Walter Nixon and Harry Claiborne, arose out of criminal
prosecutions. The last judge removed from office prior to that was in
1936. Apparently the 1805 impeachment and acquittal of Justice Samuel
Chase dissuaded the Congress (at least until now) from trying to use
impeachment against a judge on the basis of judicial decision-making.
Why is judicial independence so important?
An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of our constitutional
system of government. The judiciary is charged with guarding the
Constitution and protecting the civil liberties and fundamental rights
of every citizen against potential tyranny of the majority. The concept
of an independent judiciary was so essential that our founding fathers
sought to protect our federal judges from political reprisals for
unpopular decisions by giving them life tenure and a guarantee of no
reduction in pay during "good behavior."
Why was that necessary?
What kind of confidence in our judicial system would any of us have if
a federal judge feared the loss of his or her job as a result of issuing
an unpopular decision? To protect the liberties of all of our citizens,
judges must be beholden to no one. Judges must perform their duties
impartially, diligently, and with integrity, and make decisions based on
the facts of the case, applying the law evenhandedly, without regard to
popular public sentiment or public pressure.
Dear citizens of Pecos,
I would like to receive post cards telling some interesting things
about your town.
May name is Megan. I am a first grader at Lamar Elementary in Mineral
Wells, Texas. We are studying our state.
Thank you for your help.
2012 SE 12th St.
Mineral Wells TX 76067
I grew up in Monahans, graduated from Monahans High in 1971, and now
reside in Plano. My parents and sister and her family still reside in
Monahans, and I enjoy knowing how things are going in the community that
had such a large part of making me the person I am today. Thanks for
your presence on the 'Net.
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Copyright 1997 by Pecos Enterprise
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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
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