Contemptuous contempt

The Supreme Court recently dismissed a complaint by several losing litigants against three Court of Appeals judges. Of course, losing parties often have an incentive to complain that decision was not fair. However, the Supreme Court then turned around and threatened the complainants with contempt “for degrading the judicial office of respondent Associate Justices of the Court of Appeals, and for interfering with the due performance of their work for the Judiciary.” You can read more about the current case here.

One of the themes that emerged from Marites Vitug’s Shadow of Doubt is that the Supreme Court protects its own. While the Supreme Court has every right to dismiss frivolous complaints against judges, is it taking things too far to threaten contempt? The real concern is that overusing contempt might discourage legitimate and useful public scrutiny of the courts. There is some research suggesting that public accountability, transparency, and media attention are key to improving judicial independence and quality.

This issue came up before when several law professors publicly complained that Justice del Castillo had plagiarized a U.S. law review article – a serious charge made by serious individuals. Then as now the Supreme Court accused them of contempt. Congress is in the process of deciding whether to impeach Justice del Castillo. However, it would probably be better for the courts if the public rather than the Congress acted as the judicial watchdog.

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