The Judiciary: What can Pakistanis teach Americans?
Around America the last several days we’ve been trying to figure out what the United States Supreme Court, and specifically Chief Justice John Roberts, is up to. Is it good, is it bad, is it liberal, is it conservative? When Bush first appointed Roberts and brought him more or less out of nowhere to make him Chief Justice, it seemed (to me at least) like a sinister and untoward partisan move. And it probably was that, on Bush’s part.
But Roberts’s decision not only to side with the “liberal” Court faction on the health care decision, but to write the opinion himself, seems to signal that he means what he’s always said about judicial independence. As the Los Angeles Times put it on Saturday, “The chief justice took control of two of the biggest politically charged cases in a decade, involving the Affordable Care Act and Arizona’s immigration law, and he fashioned careful, lawyerly rulings that resulted in victories for the Obama administration. E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post published a column on Thursday headlined “A victory for Obama – and for Roberts”.
I’ve been surprised to find Roberts the apparent answer to my recent question “Where will the leadership come from?” Roberts seems to have the Court’s, and his own, position in the entire grand sweep of American history in mind. On the other hand, this decision – like any Supreme Court decision, especially a major one, in any country – is inherently political and will have political consequences. What will those consequences be, over both the short and long term? This is where I specifically ask my Pakistani friends to comment, and to reflect on the role that the judiciary, and especially the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, have played in recent Pakistani history. Most recently, of course, the Court intervened in national politics by dismissing Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
What should the judiciary’s role be, in any country? What has it been recently in Pakistan? Have the Chief Justice and his supporters in the “lawyers’ movement” played a positive role, or a dangerous one? I’ve heard a wide range of answers to these questions from Pakistanis over the past few years. As always, the situation in Pakistan is messy – and it’s messy in America too. I would love to read reflections from Pakistanis on the role of the judiciary in both Pakistan and America – what it should be, what it is, how the situations are similar, how they’re different.
Please comment here on this page or on my Facebook page. I’m planning to write a new article of my own within the next couple of days. If I get enough interesting responses, I might also compile them into an article for the Huffington Post.