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An independent judiciary

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TODAY'S opening of the new term of the United States Supreme Court is a reminder of the importance of the judiciary in American democracy. Like its predecessors, this court will be dealing with fundamental issues in a free society. On the basis of the some 80 cases accepted so far, individual rights and civil liberties would appear to lie at the core of the most important decisions this session. These rulings are likely to come in cases dealing with church and state, the rights of criminals, and affirmative action, as noted elsewhere in this paper. Whatever the issue, the nine justices -- like their predecessors for two centuries -- will be charged with deciding each suit in accordance with their interpretations of the nation's Constitution and other elements of US law.

This puts a premium on the independence of judges. They must be committed to deciding cases on the basis of law -- irrespective of political or social pressures and of their own personal inclinations. At this moment the judiciary is under heavy pressure, much of it from the Reagan administration, to accommodate conservative social views, both in the selection of cases and the appointment of judges. All judicial appointees, at whatever level, should be chosen in large part on the basis of their impersona l commitment to law, not to ideology. Not one of the nine sitting judges on the US Supreme Court has given any indication of retiring this session. Yet it frequently is noted that opportunities may arise for President Reagan to make appointments to the high court before his second term expires in 1988.

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