Unhappy with a recent court decision striking down newly gutted land-use laws, an ultra-conservative group has thrown a hissy fit, taking the unusual step of screaming for the offending judge to be recalled.
The Constitution Party (ironically titled, given its dislike for the constitutional concept of politically independent judges) kicked off its recall drive with a rally last Saturday, November 5, in rural Keizer, Oregon. The party is seeking to remove Marion County Judge Mary James because of her October ruling against Measure 37—the ballot measure requiring Oregon state and city governments to compensate landowners for loss of property value due to zoning regulations. She ruled that the measure was unconstitutional because it gives unequal benefits to people who purchased their land before regulations went into effect.
The two parties involved in the original lawsuit have so far stayed out of the recall controversy. The pro-37 group, Oregonians in Action, officially had no comment on the recall effort. Dan Eisenbeis, staff planner for land-use stalwarts 1000 Friends of Oregon, refrained from commenting directly on the recall, but said, "If people are feeling angry about the way this has played out, they should focus on the people who misled them into passing an unconstitutional law."
It's generally held that the judiciary should be above politics, but the Constitution Party is outraged because Judge James ignored the "will of the people" in her decision. If the recall effort is successful, the fallout could be disastrous—judges could become more beholden to the whims of the majority than to the rule of law.
Through their whining, though, the Constitution Party may do the rest of the state a favor—they've shown that Oregon judges are already too vulnerable to political pressures. As elected officials (yes, Oregon elects its judges) they are subject to majority-rules-style politics, like recall efforts by outraged groups that don't grasp the subtleties of constitutional law. With Judge James' recall as a backdrop, perhaps it's time for the state to consider making the judiciary truly independent.