Judicial tyranny is a familiar phenomenon as judges routinely take charge of school systems and strike down state laws on abortion, pornography, and murder. Recently, one federal judge has even changed the property taxes in Kansas City, MO, while a federal district judge in Des Moines upheld the right of convicts in Iowa to read dirty books and magazines. The most interesting case, however, involves a Vermont Supreme Court justice who has apparently set out to test the old definition of tyranny, the maxim that no man can be the judge of his own case.
Judge Louis Peck is 70 years old, and according to the Vermont Constitution, he is required to retire. While it may seem cruel and counterproductive to force judges into retirement, our experience with sickly and superannuated judges on the US Supreme Court—William O. Douglas, most prominently in the past, and Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan on the present court—indicates the wisdom of Vermont lawmakers. Judge Peck not only disagrees, but he continues to sit in open defiance of the state constitution, because a 1986 amendment to the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act removed the upper limit (which had been set at 70). Judge Peck stands by the federal law, and in 1987 the attorney general of Vermont expressed a written opinion that federal law must prevail.
In any contest between state and federal law, justice or constitutionality is rarely the issue. All that matters is the superior power of the federal government. In this case, however, the opinion of the state attorney general is only advisory and does not have the force of a court decision. Rather than step aside and wait for the courts to decide. Judge Peck has preferred to present the amusing spectacle of the drunkard who refuses to leave when the party is over. He brings the laws of his state into general contempt and displays once again the arrogance and despotism we have come to expect from all too many judges. (TF)
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