To The Editor:
Your publication has done a great public service in running Karen Lee Torre’s recent column on our legislature’s creation of an extra-constitutional commission to propose judicial salary increases that go into effect if the legislature fails to act on the commission’s recommendations. This is not widely known to members of the legal profession or the public at large and deserves wide distribution and vigorous public debate.
The authors of our state constitution would be astonished and offended by such unconstitutional dealings. Such a scheme would also collapse if challenged in court. See Pellegrino v. O’Neill, 480 A.2d 476 (Conn. 1984) (Connecticut Supreme Court dismissed a suit that would require it to rule on the adequacy of appropriations for the Judicial Branch holding that it presented "a political question which could not be adjudicated by judicial authority without violating the principle of separation of powers… We must resist the temptation which this case affords to enhance our own constitutional authority by trespassing upon an area clearly reserved as the prerogative of a coordinate branch of government.")
Whatever rule-making powers may be claimed by the judiciary or powers delegated by the legislature to an outside commission, appropriations cannot conceivably be among them. In addition to its glaring unconstitutionality, this scheme flouts state fiscal and budgetary laws and regulations.
Every legislator involved in this obvious attempt to shift the legislature’s appropriations powers and responsibilities to a coordinate – and highly self-interested – branch can, at best, be described as constitutionally illiterate. And let us be honest. We all know that this is not proposed because of our legislators’ educational deficiencies. It is a naked ploy to shift the decision to raise judicial salaries to a commission under the aegis of a constitutional branch that possesses no appropriations powers, in a clumsy attempt to end-run electoral accountability and deceive the general public.
Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the average 19th-century American’s command of state and federal constitutional principles: "I have hardly ever met one of the common people in America who did not surprisingly and easily perceive which obligations derived from a law of Congress and which were based on the laws of his state…. In New England, every citizen…must know the history of his country, and the main features of his constitution. In Connecticut and Massachusetts you will very seldom find a man whose knowledge of all these things is only superficial and anyone completely unaware of them is an oddity." (Tocqueville, Democracy in America.)
It is dispiriting to think that today’s elected legislators making this proposal hold in such contempt both their constituents and their own oaths to support and defend the constitution under which they exercise their powers. Let us hope that the general public has a sufficient command of basic civics to stop this misconceived and unconstitutional scheme before any more scarce resources are wasted on this artful and ultimately doomed dodge.
Attorney Margaret A. Little