[Note: This CJI guest commentary originally appeared in the February 3, 2024, edition of The Denver Post. Reprinted here with permission.]
With all the controversy surrounding the Anderson v. Griswold case, we, as informed citizens, have the right to understand why courts will be deciding whether former President Donald Trump makes the ballot. The reasons are twofold.
First, the founders of our country designed the government with three separate co-equal branches: the legislative to make the laws, the executive to carry them out, and the judiciary to resolve cases, including those involving the constitutionality and legality of the actions of other branches.
The idea is a system of checks and balances, with no one branch having unlimited power. Our founders deliberately created our system to avoid the alternative – monarchs with unbounded power.
Second, as to the judiciary, the basis of our justice system is for judges to decide cases brought before them and to do so fairly and impartially, based on the facts and the law, free from extraneous influences.
The Anderson case is an example of our system of checks and balances and of our neutral judicial review system in action. Interested voters called upon Colorado’s courts to interpret and apply Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to our U.S. Constitution and to determine whether Trump is eligible to appear on the ballot. The Denver District Court, doing its job, interpreted and applied the constitutional provision for purposes of the case brought before it.
The parties to the case, exercising their rights to appeal, then asked the Colorado Supreme Court to review the District Court’s decision.
That court also interpreted and applied the Constitutional provision to the facts of the case brought before it. Parties to the case have now, exercising their further appeal rights, brought the case to the U.S. Supreme Court for decision.
As we await the Anderson decision — regardless of its outcome — all Americans should cherish the fact that we have an American system of justice built on laws, and on checks and balances.
Under the Constitution and our system of justice, we are all subject to and protected by our laws. The system of checks and balances that neutral judicial review provides is crucial. This system of protection from overreach by all three branches of government is an important part of our democracy and must be respected and preserved.
Agree or disagree with the Anderson decision, all Americans should cherish and respect our American justice system. The alternative, in these highly polarized times, is too terrible to contemplate. We, as informed citizens, should not tolerate threats to our system of justice – or to those who carry it out.
Donald Samuels is the board chair of the Colorado Judicial Institute and Jeffrey Rupp is the executive director. The Colorado Judicial Institute is an independent, non-partisan nonprofit with the mission to promote public trust in Colorado’s courts.