Partisan Courts and the American Dream of Justice

Nina Sankovitch
4 min readOct 12, 2020

The fight for independence in the 1770s was in large part motivated by the colonists’ disgust with how the King and Parliament sought to manipulate colonial judges, and in turn, the King and Parliament understood just how important it was to have power over the judges and the judicial system, which is why they instigated the methods for controlling the courts which so riled up the colonists. The very first case for impeachment in America was brought in 1774, instigated by Massachusetts’ House of Representatives against Peter Oliver, the Chief Justice of Massachusetts. John Adams prepared the Articles of Impeachment, which listed corruption, greed, and disloyalty, all indicative of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as the bases for impeachment.

The House of Representatives approved the Articles of Impeachment but the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, refused to recognize either the merits of the claims against Oliver or the legality of the process of impeachment. Taking the Royal party line, he declared that Chief Justice Oliver would not be removed, no matter how the Massachusetts House of Representatives had voted.

John Adams knew that a judge without jurors could do little, and that Americans would never serve under a man like Peter Oliver. Within months, Adams was proved right. When called to serve as jurors in their local courts, most colonists refused to participate in a court system tainted by an impeached chief justice, just as Adams had predicted. As one man testified in Boston, when asked why he refused to serve, “we believe in our consciences, that our acting in concert with a court so constituted… would be betraying the just and sacred rights of our native land… which we need to preserve for our posterity.”

Without jurors, no cases could be heard, and the Royally-administered court system was brought to a standstill. The disruption of the royal administration of the colonies was now on a roll. Taxes would not be paid, tea would be tossed into the sea, British troops on the streets of Boston would be harassed and hassled, and in the end, a war would be fought and won, and the new country of the United States was born.

The independence of the judiciary is the bedrock upon which our American democracy stands. It must not be an illusory independence, nor one which is doubted by the vast majority of Americans. To allow the seat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to be filled in these fraught weeks before what may be the…