Case Note  |  Volume 169

Reconsidering Judicial Independence: Forty‐Five Years in the Trenches and in the Tower

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168 U. Pa. L. Rev. Online 18 (2019).

Posted on 11-2019

Case Note - Reconsidering Judicial Independence: Forty‐Five Years in the Trenches and in the Tower








The University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online presents the first installment of “Independent and Accountable Courts in Perilous Times: Perspectives from the Academy, the Bench, and the Bar,” a series of articles, essays, and commentaries addressing the current state and direction of the judiciary. The series begins with Professor Stephen B. Burbank's “Reconsidering Judicial Independence: Forty Years in the Trenches and in the Tower.” From his experiences as a Supreme Court clerk during Watergate, as a reporter on the judicial committee implementing the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, and finally as a law professor deeply engaged in the study of judicial power, Professor Burbank suggests several lessons on how judicial accountability is essential to maintaining an independent judiciary.

Trusting in the integrity of our institutions when they are not under stress, we focus attention on them when they are under stress or when we need them to protect us against other institutions. In the case of the federal judiciary, the two conditions often coincide. In this Essay, I aim to provide practical context for some of the important lessons to be learned from the periods of stress for the federal judiciary that I have observed as a lawyer and concerned citizen and to provide theoretical context for lessons I have deemed significant as a scholar.


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