- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2005

I have always heard that confession is good for the soul, but I’m not so sure I believe it. Confession runs the very real risk of providing our enemies with ammo. Be that as it may, the burden of keeping my secret has simply become too great. You see, until he died a few years ago, one of my very best friends was a lawyer. The trouble is, I did all I could to encourage him in pursuing and ultimately achieving his dream of becoming a judge. And the man was a … liberal.

In your heart of hearts, I know you think less of me. After all, I’m the same guy who has vowed I’d never vote for a Democrat because I never want liberals in a position to appoint like-minded judges. For long after the politicians have retired, been voted out of office or died and gone to that big pork barrel in the sky, those judicial appointments live on.

As a former movie critic, the portrayal of judges in films has always been fascinating. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, when westerns were in vogue, judges were usuallyportrayedas sneaky and corrupt — often in league with a crooked banker. If there was a dollar lying around, the western judge wanted his 50 cents.

In comedies of that period, judges were often comically cantankerous characters.

They were usually honest enough, but the actors had to know how to do a slow burn, a double take and be able to pound a gavel like Gene Krupa on speed.

Once in a while, as in MGM’sHardyfamily movies, a judge was depicted as the fount of all wisdom.Interestingly enough, although there were sixteen movies in the series, I don’t recall ever seeing Judge James Hardy on the bench. We only got to seehimdolingout Solomon-like lectures to his son Andy. After a while, I began to wonder if he was really a judge at all. I found myself believing he was merely a harmless small-town eccentric who only thought he was a judge. One never saw Mrs. Hardy ironing his robe, and he always seemed to be sitting in his den just waiting to give young Andrew a good talking-to.

But nobody has ever really shown us judges on screen in a way that truly captured their villainy. Maybe it’s because audiences would run screaming from theaters if faced with a liberal doling out his version of justice.

It seems to me that it all began with the Warren Court. No longer were Supreme Court justices satisfied with merely interpreting the law. They found it far more gratifying to create it. Besides, if they did it themselves, thus eliminating those annoying middlemen on Capitol Hill, it was automatically constitutional. The joke in Hollywood is that everyone from half-witted actors to the pope wants to direct. The joke in Washington is that everyone wants to legislate. Only it’s no joke when it comes to activist judges.

It’s perfectly reasonable that each of the three branches of government regards the other two as totally expendable. We the people tend to view all three pretty much that way. But of the three, it’s been the judicial branch that has enjoyed the greatest success so far in encroaching on the turf of the other two. The peril is that they’re the only ones we don’t get to vote on. So long as they don’t run amok with Uzis and shoot up Pennsylvania Avenue, they can be as crazy as poodles and there’s not a thing any of us can do about it. England has only one fanny sitting on the throne; we have nine. And that’s not counting all those guys in the wings, biding their time on the various courts of appeal.

By expanding the interpretation of the Constitution, the court over the past five decades has intruded itself into every segment of society.

The danger, whether or not you agree with certain court decisions, is that if the folks paid to protect the Constitution are choosing to ignore its own self-proclaimed limitations, we’re all in big trouble. If the court can grant itself the authority to legislate everything from abortion to grade-school curriculum, we might as well send all the senators and congressmen home. Then, for good measure, we can lock up all the state houses and send all the governors and assemblymen packing. Actually, now that I think about it, that part doesn’t sound so bad.

In any case, if I’m going to be stuck with judges, I prefer the conservative variety because I believe they’re more likely to understand that the guys who wrote the Constitution never wanted all the power of the nation vested in the hands of nine political appointees. I also believe they’re far more likely to accept the fact that in spite of the lifetime tenure, the fancy silk robes, and the horde of sycophants eager to kiss their feet and polish their halos, they’re still mere mortals, and not gods.

Gods, after all, have to work for a living.

Burt Prelutsky is an award-winning TV writer. His movie credits include “Aunt Mary,”“Homeward Bound,” “A Small Killing,” “Hobson’s Choice” and “A Winner Never Quits: The Pete Gray Story.” His writing credits include “MASH,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Dragnet,” and “Diagnosis Murder.”

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