Angry at Rulings, Some Judge the Judges

But supporters of Judge Loren McMaster, who is not permitted to speak on specific cases, note that an appeals court has unanimously upheld his ruling.

"Any recall attempt on a sitting judge, based upon a decision that they have made, in my opinion, is an act of intimidation over judges," said Glen Craig, the former Republican sheriff of Sacramento County. "I mean literally, any group -- you pick a group: pick police, for example; police unions, very powerful, lots of money -- suppose they took on every judge that rendered a decision or a sentence that they didn't like.

"I would hate to live in a society where judges sitting there are fearful of being recalled, based upon an honest decision, a good-faith decision based upon the law," he added.

When a federal judge in Kentucky ruled displays of the Ten Commandments in public buildings are unconstitutional -- in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court -- activists at a Washington conference called on Congress to remove her and any others who ruled the same way.

"The conservative charge that the courts are running amok and thwarting the will of the American people is flatly wrong," Rosen said. "Polls suggest that on all the great issues that people are all excited about, abortion, affirmative action, school prayer, the court is basically in tune with the views of a narrow majority of the American people."

'Nut File'

California appellate judge Alfred Goodwin -- who was appointed by President Nixon -- knows something about political pressure.

"I'm probably the first person since Adolf Hitler to be unanimously denounced by the United States Senate," he said.

In 2002, Goodwin ruled that requiring students to say "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional -- a decision that was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals before being overruled by the U.S Supreme Court. Within hours of Goodwin's decision, he was attacked from the Senate floor.

"I hope the Senate will waste no time in throwing this back in the face of this stupid judge," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

"This decision is just nuts," said then-Sen.Tom Daschle, D-Neb.

The judge also received more than 10,000 letters protesting his decision.

"We filled one room in the San Francisco courthouse with that mail," Goodwin said.

But he accepts that criticism is part of the job -- even the occasional threat.

"My secretary keeps a 'nut file,' " Goodwin said. "When I get letters offering to kill me, I just give them to my secretary and say, 'Put it in the nut file.' "

Violence

Sometimes, though threats turn real. The recent murders of a judge in Atlanta, and the husband and mother of a federal judge in Chicago were apparently tied to personal grievances, not hot-button social issues. Yet, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, recently ruminated about a possible link.

Cornyn mulled a possible "connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions, yet are unaccountable to the public -- that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence."

Cornyn later backed off those remarks. But Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, citing an increase in threats, recently said, "I don't think the harsh rhetoric helps. I think it energizes people who are a little off-base to take actions that maybe they wouldn't otherwise take."

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