Most jobs come with challenges.Co-workers you don’t get along with, long hours, lengthy commutes, not enough pay. We’ve all had tough jobs. Few careers require as broad of shoulders as those in the judicial system.
Caseloads that would keep a dozen people busy are leveled on just a handful of prosecuting attorneys. Then that large caseload must be balanced and scheduled before one, maybe two judges.
Defense attorneys often take criticism for providing legal help to accused drug dealers, murderers and rapists. They, too, handle a caseload many people would shy away from.
For those lucky few that sit behind the bench, expectations are high to be impartial and fair. You must set aside your own feelings, political leanings and follow the letter of the law. These are laws created by others — state legislatures, Congress and sometimes the U.S. Supreme Court — and may not in any way align with your own opinions.
Following the parameters of laws set by others, though, is what separates our judicial system and government — i.e. the separation of powers — from other places.
Yes, the job has some perks — status, a chance to study fascinating cultural and social issues, money.
You also get the chance to do some good. Judges routinely help young adults find their way back to a law-abiding life, issue orders for drug rehabilitation to help get somebody clean and protect children from abusive or dangerous situations.
Then, every once and awhile, a case comes along that will set precedent for years to come. Pressure weighs down on your shoulders as you must consider not only the case before you, but the impact it will have on future cases.
Whether it be immigration issues in the Texas, gay marriage in California or juvenile sentencing for murder in Sheridan, Wyo., the job isn’t easy.
When you live in a community where murder is rare, when it does happen, it shakes residents to the core. In those situations, too, the “eye-for-an-eye” punishment becomes attractive. Whether you know the victims of violent crime or not, a friend of a friend certainly did. Vengeance is an argument that is difficult to overlook.
But, no matter the crime and no matter the age of the criminal, it must be tough to be the one who looks offenders in the eyes and says, “I sentence you to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”
Lawyers and judges discuss on a regular basis in local courts and throughout the nation whether sending a person to prison for two, five or 20 years, will be effective. Will the individual be rehabilitated and become a productive member of society upon release? Or, will a prison term harden them and lead them to a continued life of crime?
Also, should we care about the fate of these criminals?
The challenges are not new ones to those involved in the judicial system, or, the elected officials that write the laws that govern that system.
Yet, each day, those individuals step behind a lectern to argue their case or don a robe to make the tough decisions at which many of us would cringe.