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Liaison Notebook: Issues to Maintain Independence


Vol. 39 No. 4

By Nicholas D. Wittenberg

Nicholas D. Wittenberg, a third-year student at The University of Toledo College of Law, is the 2010–11 Law Student Division liaisons to the Standing Committee on Judicial Independence.
The ABA Standing Committee on Judicial Independence has undertaken and made significant accomplishments on many projects regarding judicial independence. As an example, the Committee wrote an amicus brief in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., Inc., et al., 129 S.Ct. 2252 (2009). Caperton demonstrates the “extremes” of when judicial independence is called into question. Caperton involved Massey Coal Co. chief executive officer Don Blankenship donating $3 million to Brent Benjamin, a candidate for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. This case represents the Committee’s substantial concern, an erosion of a neutral and unbiased judiciary who resolve disputes in an impartial manner, a central principal in the American judiciary.

The Committee is composed of a number of accomplished judges and lawyers from across the nation. William Weisenberg chairs the Committee and directs its efforts toward the monumental task of highlighting judicial independence. Law students are encouraged to attend meetings and to review the Committee’s material as it examines impressive matters. The caliber of jurists on the Committee is also motivating for law students seeking to gain a better understanding of why judicial independence is a significant issue.

Other Committee projects and priorities include revising the ABA Standards on State Judicial Selection, Defending the Courts/Response to Unjust Criticism, and setting national judicial standards. The Committee is also working on the “Least Understood Branch” project, reviewing state court funding, and the Committee is focusing on Justice Is the Business of Government Task Force along with the National Center for State Courts. This committee is also focused on promoting diversity on the bench, and continued work and promotion of the Judicial Disqualification Project.

These projects represent a snapshot of the expansive amount of work the Committee undertakes to maintain judicial independence. As the Committee’s chair, Weisenberg states on the Committee website, “[a] fair, impartial and independent judiciary is indispensable to a free and democratic society. Public trust and confidence in our courts, the belief that all who come before the courts will be heard, be given a fair and impartial hearing, is the foundation of our justice system.”

This message and further information that law students and lawyers alike will find valuable can be located at The Committee’s website also provides multiple resources. The Committee works on multiple projects and identifies a number of priorities to maintain a cornerstone of the American legal system—a fair and impartial judiciary.


Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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