Page images
PDF
EPUB

as the year 1789, among the first acts of the government, the legislature explicitly recognised the right of a state court to declare a treaty, a statute, and an authority exercised under the United States void, subject to the revision of the supreme court of the United States; and it has expressly given the final power to the supreme court to affirm a judgment which is against the validity either of a treaty, statute or an authority of the government.

I humbly trust, Mr. Chairman, that I have given abun. dant proofs from the nature of our government, from the language of the constitution, and from legislative acknowledgment, that the judges of our courts have the power to judge and determine upon the constitutionality of our laws.

Let me now suppose that in our frame of government the judges are a check upon the legislature; that the constitution is deposited in their keeping. Will you say afterwards that their existence depends upon the legislature? That the body whom they are to check has the power to destroy them? Will you say that the constitution may be taken out of their hands, by a power the most to be distrusted, because the only power which could violate it with impunity? Can any thing be more absurd than to admit, that the judges are a check upon the legislature, and yet to contend that they exist at the will of the legislature? A check must necessarily imply a power commensurate to its end. The political body designed to check another must be independent of it, otherwise there can be no check.-What check can there be, when the power designed to be checked can annihilate the body which is to restrain it?

I go further, Mr. Chairman, and take a stronger ground. I say, in the nature of things, the dependence of the judges upon the legislature, and their right to declare the acts of the legislature void, are repugnant, and cannot

exist together.— The doctrine, sir, supposes two rights --first, the right of the legislature to destroy the office of the judge, and the right of the judge to vacate the act of the legislature. You have a right to abolish by a law, the offices of the judges of the circuit courts. They have a right to declare your law void. It unavoidably follows in the exercise of these rights, either that you destroy their rights, or that they destroy yours. This doctrine is not an harmless absurdity, it is a most dangerous heresy. It is a doctrine which cannot be practised without producing not discord only, but bloodshed. If you pass the bill upon your table the judges have a constitutional right to declare it void. I hope they will have courage to exercise that right; and if, sir, I am called upon to take my side, standing acquitted in my conscience, and before my God, of all motives but the support of the constitution of my country, I shall not tremble at the consequences.

The constitution may have its enemies, but I know that it has also its friends. I beg gentlemen to pause be. fore they take this rash step. There are many, very many who believe, if you strike this blow, you inflict a mortal wound on the constitution. There are many now willing to spill their blood to defend that constitution. Are gentlemen disposed to risk the consequences? Sir, I mean no threats—I have no expectation of appalling the stout hearts of my adversaries; but if gentlemen are regardless of themselves, let them consider their wives and children, their neighbours and their friends. Will they risk civil dissention; will they hazard the welfare, will they jeopardize the peace of the country, to save a paltry sum of money, less than thirty thousand dollars?

Mr. Chairman, I am confident that the friends of this measure are not apprised of the nature of its operation, nor sensible of the mischievous consequences which are likely to attend it. Sir, the morals of your people, the

peace of the country, the stability of the government, rest upon the maintenance of the independence of the judiciary. It is not of half the importance to England, that the judges should be independent of the crown, as it is with us, that they should be independent of the legislalature. Am I asked, would you render the judges superior to the legislature? I answer, no, but co-ordinate. Would you render them independent of the legislature? I answer, yes, independent of every power on earth, while they behaved themselves well. The essential interests, the permanent welfare of society, require this independence. Not, sir, on account of the judge; that is a small consideration, but on account of those between whom he is to decide. You calculate on the weaknesses of human nature, and you suffer the judge to be dependent on one, lest he should be to those on whom he depends. Justice does not exist where partiality prevails. A dependent judge cannot be impartial. Independence therefore is essential to the purity of your judicial tribunals.

Let it be remembered, that no power is so sensibly felt with society, as that of the judiciary. The life and property of every man is liable to be in the hands of the judges. Is it not our great interest to place our judges upon such high ground, that no fear can intimidate, no hope can seduce them? The present measure humbles them in the dust, it prostrates them at the feet of faction, it renders them the tools of every dominant party. It is this effect which I deprecate, it is this consequence which I deeply deplore. What does reason, what does argument avail, when party spirit presides? Subject your bench to the influence of this spirit, and justice bids a final adieu to your tribunals. We are asked, sir, if the judges are to be independent of the people? The question presents a false and delusive view. We are all the people. We are, and as long as we enjoy our freedom, we shall be divided

into parties. The true question is, shall the judiciary be permanent, or fluctuate with the tide of public opinion? I beg, I implore gentlemen, to consider the magnitude and value of the principle which they are about to annihilate. If your judges are independent of political changes, they may have their preferences, but they will not enter into the spirit of party. But let their existence depend upon the support of the power of a certain set of men, and they cannot be impartial. Justice will be trodden under foot. Your courts will lose all public confidence and respect.

The judges will be supported by their partizans, who in their turn will expect impunity for the wrongs and violence they commit. The spirit of party will be inflamed to madness; and the moment is not far off, when this fair country is to be desolated by civil war.

Do not say, that you render the judges dependent only on the people. You make them dependent on your president. This is his measure. The same tide of public opinion which changes a president, will change the majorities of the branches of the legislature. The legislature will be the instrument of his ambition, and he will have the courts as the instruments of his vengeance. He uses the legislature to remove the judges, that he may appoint creatures of his own. In effect, the powers of the government will be concentrated in the hands of one man, who will dare to act with more boldness, because he will be sheltered from responsibility. The independence of the judiciary was the felicity of our constitution. It was this principle which was to curb the fury of party upon sudden changes. The first moments of power, gained by a struggle, are the most vindictive and intemperate. Raised above the storm, it was the judiciary whieh was to control the fiery zeal, and to quell the fierce passions of a victorious faction,

We are standing on the brink of the revolutionary torrent, which deluged in blood one of the fairest countries of Europe.

France had her national assembly; more numerous and equally popular with our own. She had her tribunals of justice and her juries. But the legislature and her courts were but the instruments of her destruction. Acts of proscription and sentences of banishment and death were passed in the cabinet of a tyrant.- Prostrate your judges at the feet of party, and you break down the mounds which defend you from this torrent. I am done. I should have thanked my God for greater power to resist a measure so destructive to the peace and happiness of the country. My feeble efforts can avail nothing. But it was my duty to make them. The meditated. blow is mortal, and from the moment it is struck, we may bid a final adieu to the constitution.

SPEECH OF MR. RANDOLPH

ON THE JUDICIARY ESTABLISHMENT.

MR. CHAIRMAN, I DO not rise for the purpose of assuming the gauntlet which has been so proudly thrown down by the Goliath of the adverse party:—not but that I believe, even my feeble

powers, armed with the simple weapons of trutha sling and a stone, are capable of prostrating on the floor that gigantic boaster, armed cap-a-pie as he is; but I am impelled by a desire to rescue from misrepresentation the arguments of my colleague (Mr. Giles), who is absent through indisposition. That absence is a subject of pecuVOL. II.

2 D

« PreviousContinue »