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Judicial Disciplinary Commissions - Alternatives to Impeachment

NCJ Number
N C Goldman
Date Published
149 pages
This report assesses the States' experience with commissions on judicial conduct as alternatives to impeachment and the applicability of these alternatives to the Federal judicial system.
A total of 51 jurisdictions, including 48 States, have established commissions on judicial conduct in response to the failure of impeachment to hold judges adequately accountable for misconduct. There are three kinds of commissions: the one-tiered system, which has one tier to investigate complaints and recommend action to the highest court of the State; the two-tiered system, which has one tier to investigate and a second to adjudicate; and the commission-legislature system, in which the commission recommends lesser punishment to the court but removal remains with the legislature. Data for this report comprise case studies of three State commission systems (North Carolina, New York, and Massachusetts), questionnaires to judges in those States, questionnaires to commissioners in over 40 States, reported court cases, and law review literature. The costs to judicial independence should be weighed against the benefits of sanctioning judges who abuse their powers or otherwise misbehave. Commissions have provided a measure of accountability for abuse never attained by impeachment or other traditional disciplinary methods. Several components, including the mixed composition of commissions, multiple appointing agencies, requirements of confidentiality, and final review by the highest court of the State, all seek to impose checks and balances on the new system. The States' experience with these commissions suggests that disciplinary methods short of impeachment could be adapted to the Federal judiciary. Although the questionnaire only surveys three States and the response rate is modest, the responses suggest that judges tend to find the commissions to be effective both in punishing misconduct and in protecting adequately the rights of the judiciary. Footnotes, a bibliography, an appendix, and 35 tables are included in the report. (Author abstract modified)