International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Fall 2011 Issue








The Worth of Judges and Judging

Dr. James G. Apple By: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor and President, International Judicial Academy

To the ordinary U.S. citizen and possibly even to citizens of other countries, the term judge probably calls to mind an experience in traffic court, or perhaps a court session in a divorce proceeding, or a visit to a probate court after the death of a family member, or more probably, for U.S. citizens, watching an episode of Judge Judy on television. Judges may come to think of themselves only in terms of case loads, the next case coming up for trial or hearing, and sessions with lawyers in pre-–trial conferences. Routine stuff. Probably very few judges have the time or inclination to sit back and reflect on or contemplate their place in the community, the nation or the world.

Judges, however, even in their everyday routines, in every country, in state or provincial courts and federal or national courts, in trial courts and appellate courts, in traffic courts and divorce courts, in landlord - tenant courts, probate courts and juvenile courts, are engaged in a process of profound importance to the future of the United States, and with their colleagues in other countries, to the future of the world. They are engaged in activities that are the core of something called the rule of law, and they are essential to its existence. That role is something that must be repeated and emphasized over and over, especially in the United States, where the political climate is such that judges and the court system are becoming increasingly under attack by devious, ignorant politicians.

A personal experience helped me in my understanding of the worth of courts and judges. When I was a senior staff officer at the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) in Washington (the U.S. agency for education, training and research for federal courts, judges and court staff) I was involved in a meeting in the early 1990s with the FJC Director and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, a veteran Washington lawyer. The State Department official was exploring the possibility of educational seminars for judges from the states that comprised the former Soviet Union. At one point during the meeting I inquired how he had become interested in such a program. He replied that he had only recently realized that there could be no protection for human rights without an independent judiciary. As a result of that seemingly obvious insight, he became interested in helping the new independent states of Eastern Europe establish such judiciaries. The surprising aspect of his admission was that he had never really thought about that truth except only recently. It was certainly one about which I had never reflected except in some vague way.

Two works of recent scholarship on the part of two very disparate academics, one a professor of psychology and the other a professor of political science, have pointed to another very important and profound view about the worth of judges, one that is again seemingly self evident and obvious, but probably one not reflected upon very much by judges or ordinary citizens. That worth relates to the decline of violence in the world, and the subsequent securing for many millions of people those rights identified in the U.S. Declaration of Independence – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The two books are Professor Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and Professor Kathryn Sikkink’s The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics.

As can be readily inferred from the title of the first book, Professor Pinker's thesis is the counterintuitive idea that violence has been declining in the world over a very long period of time, and that we are living in the most peaceable period of time in human history. Without going into a lot of details, of which there are many in this nearly 700-page book, suffice it to say that Professor Pinker proves his point, to the exclusion of any other hypothesis or viewpoint. What are the causes of this decline in violence throughout the world? Professor Pinker identifies them. The causes are centered around such factors as the civilizing processes of civilization, the growth of international commerce, the rise of empathy, the increased and expanded regard for human life, the identification of a universal human nature and a body of human rights that includes those for minorities, women, children, homosexuals and animals. Explicit in one place and implicit in many other parts of the book is recognition of the role of the rule of law and thus the role of judges in the decline of violence in the world.

The second book is very explicit about the role of judges and judicial systems in “changing world politics,” mainly by the enforcement of human rights norms through holding national leaders individually accountable for human rights violations. In the introduction to this book the author comments on how the justice cascade started:

The justice cascade was not spontaneous, nor was it the result of the natural evolution of law or global culture in the countries where the prosecutions occurred. These changes in ideas were fueled by the human rights movement. The cascade started as a result of the concerted efforts of small groups of public interest lawyers, activists and jurists who pioneered strategies, developed legal arguments, recruited plaintiffs and witnesses, marshaled evidence, and persevered throughout years of legal challenges.

Even though the prosecutions referred to in this book involved only a small number of judges practicing a very specialized type of criminal law, those judges are part of the larger judicial family of a nation and of international justice. Therefore all judges are entitled to share in the admiration and distinction resulting from the benefits of the prosecutions. The worth of judges in the courts where the prosecutions occurred reflect the worth of judges everywhere. All are a part of a universal system of justice that is developing around the world. As the author notes in her concluding paragraph: “the justice cascade is embodied in both domestic and international law and in domestic and international institutions.”

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© 2011 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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