Paleologos seeks to restore balance to judiciary

Phil Paleologos is the better choice

Being a relative newcomer to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the role of the Governor’s Council was until recently unfamiliar to me. 

Based on my conversations around town, I found out that my unfamiliarity was all too typical.  So as a political junky, I felt the need to do a little research and found out that this relatively unknown body exercises an important role in state government.

Most importantly, the Council must approve nominations for a number of appointed offices, including judges and justices of the state courts.  In essence, the Council exercises at the state level, the “advice and consent” role that the Senate serves at the federal level.

However, unlike the federal system, this power is confined to a relatively small group—eight Councilors.  District one, our district, stretches from Provincetown to Taunton to Swansea. 

The Council must also approve pardons and commutations.  Under the Romney Administration, which is loath to put forward pardons, this responsibility is currently not an issue; however reflecting back to the revolving door judicial practice of Governor Dukakis, approval of pardons can be an important check on abuse.   (It would have been helpful to have a similar check at the national level to cancel the disgraceful pardons of convicted terrorists and political cronies signed by President Clinton as he left office.)

Finally, the Governor’s Council has extraordinary access to the corner office on Beacon Hill, meeting every week with the Lieutenant Governor and sometimes even the Governor.

paleologosphilIn preparation for this column, I called the Republican nominee, Phil Paleologos, and Democratic incumbent, Councilor Carole Fiola, to ask a series of questions.  In both cases, I identified myself as the author of “The Conservative Corner” column for the Standard-Times

Understandably, my pronouncement made Ms. Fiola somewhat cautious of me.  Nevertheless, she was extremely gracious and spent considerable time with me over the course of two phone calls, both answering my questions and educating me on the role of the Governor’s Council. 

In my opinion, we are faced with a choice between dedicated and well-intentioned candidates.  The decision, therefore, comes down to one of political philosophy. 
Conservatives feel that there is a need to restore the balance in the respective roles of the judiciary and the legislature and to reverse the intrusion by the judicial branch into the role of policymaking—a role for the people and the legislature. 

Liberals, on the other hand, have increasingly used the courts to implement policy changes that the people and the legislature have rejected.

At the heart of this debate is the question: Should the Constitution be strictly interpreted, based on original intent, or should it be interpreted as an evolving document?

I asked both Ms. Fiola and Mr. Paleologos whether they believed that “the Constitution is a living, breathing document that evolves with time or whether it requires a formal amendment to change.” 

While Ms. Fiola artfully straddled the fence, Mr. Paleologos emphatically stated, “The constitution is written to say what it means and to mean what it says.  We have a process that is supposed to be followed to amend the Constitution and the government should abide by it.”

A good example of the conflict on the role of the courts is the SJC decision to legalize gay marriage.  Ms Fiola repeatedly sidestepped the question on whether she agreed with the legal basis for the decision, although she eventually stated that she supported the decision. 

In contrast, Phil Paleologos leapt at the opportunity to express his disagreement, “What a shame that, in the birthplace of our democracy, the SJC has pushed a law that they had no place to do.  We have become, and I will coin a phrase here, a ‘judiocracy.’  The people should have the right to decide.” 

Following the SJC decision to legalize gay marriage, conservative groups have been critical of Chief Justice Margaret Marshall who was confirmed by the Governor’s Council before Ms Fiola became a member. 

Ms. Fiola did not feel that she could answer whether she would have voted to confirm Chief Justice Marshall without going through a formal review process. In contrast, Paleologos responded in no uncertain terms, “Had I been sitting as a Governor’s Councilor, I would never have voted for Margaret Marshall.”

While Mr. Paleologos believes that the judiciary is out of control and must be reigned in, Ms. Fiola believes that judges are unfairly blamed.  “I am glad I am not a judge.  We have close to 400 judges and you don’t hear about all of the fine work that they do.  You only hear about those cases that are brought forward by the media,” she said.

It would seem that there is an element of truth in both positions.  As Ms. Fiola says, the majority of judges probably are unbiased and fair.  However, there are also some judges, especially at the SJC, who have clearly exceeded their constitutional authority.  We should not allow our admiration for the majority of the judges to insulate bad judges from criticism.

Despite sharp differences, Mr. Paleologos and Ms. Fiola demonstrated an almost eerie similarity when responding to questions about why they ran for the Council and the importance of the position.  Both candidates displayed conviction and sincerity about wanting to make a difference and believing that the Governor’s Council is a good place to make that happen. Both also spoke of the important responsibility to advocate local interests to the corner office.

I am grateful that we have a clean election between two honorable and dedicated candidates so that we can base our decision on political philosophy.  Because Mr. Paleologos seeks to restore the proper balance between our branches of government, he is the better of two good choices.

Dr. Peter Friedman is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at UMass Dartmouth who lives in South Dartmouth.  His Email address is [email protected]

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