Bully boy

February 27, 2006

The best that can be said about some proposals is nothing, so as not to draw attention to lamebrain notions that will succumb to their own foolishness in any case. Thus, the initial impulse was simply to ignore Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr.'s absurd attempt to remove a Baltimore Circuit Court judge because she ruled against a state ban on gay marriage.

In fact, so silly is the notion that a judge could be removed on the basis of one decision, no matter how unpopular, that the Anne Arundel County Republican must have another agenda. Such as drawing attention to his bid to put a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the fall ballot, or finding a means to force reluctant Democrats to take a stand on the controversial issue.

That said, Mr. Dwyer's crude bid to bully and intimidate not only one Baltimore judge but also presumably the entire Maryland judiciary is so antithetical to American democracy that it's too dangerous to ignore.

Under the American system of checks and balances, legislators write the laws and judges resolve legal disputes, often by interpreting the law. Politicians frequently complain about judges legislating from the bench, but the truth is that judges often find themselves confronted with difficult disputes on which lawmakers have taken a pass.

Gay marriage is a case in point. Neither President Bush nor most members of Congress have any desire to get embroiled in that debate. So they have left it to the states, and ultimately the courts.

Baltimore Judge M. Brooke Murdock's courtroom was the first stop on what will doubtless be a long legal journey for the nine gay couples challenging Maryland's law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. She found the law to be unconstitutionally discriminatory. Rulings could well seesaw back and forth as the case proceeds through state appeals courts and perhaps to the federal level.

Delegate Dwyer contends that the General Assembly has broad authority to remove a judge for treading on legislative turf, hinting at the same brand of incendiary intolerance in which Texas Rep. Tom DeLay engaged when federal judges rebuffed Congress' attempt to manipulate the bench in the Terri Schiavo feeding tube case last year.

An independent judiciary is vital to Maryland and to the nation. Its members should be treasured, not threatened - or soon no lawyer worthy of the job will agree to serve.

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