From Carol Costello and Ronni Berke
Politicians talk a lot about "judicial activism," but what does it really mean? The answer could be: whatever you want it to mean. The "activist judge" term is used so often and is so politically loaded some suggest you turn off the TV as soon as you hear it.
For Professor Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University, "this type of name calling is perfectly juvenile, it's simply saying that nobody could possibly disagree with my interpretation of the Constitution."
But those who use the phrase argue "activist judges" are dangerous – because they "legislate from the bench." Many Republicans have expressed concerns that a too-liberal court will pick and choose which laws it doesn't like and find a way to change their meaning or throw them out.
If that's the case, then how to explain the court under Chief Justices William Rehnquist and John Roberts. Both are conservative. And under their leadership, experts say the high court overturned about 65 state or federal laws. That's more than were overturned in the previous liberal-led court.
So is that bad? Good? Both?
"The curious thing is that yesterday's judicial activists are often today's judicial heroes," Turley adds.
In 1954, many accused "activist judges" of wrongly overturning state laws in Brown v. Board of Education – on the grounds school segregation violated the U.S. Constitution. Today, those judges aren't considered "evil activist judges," but wise men.
Some say the problem with the term "judicial activist" today is that it has evolved into something that has nothing to do with actively, impartially interpreting the law.
"Conservatives at the moment want to make sure that their views prevail on abortion, affirmative action, and religion in the public square question," says National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg.
"So when they talk about a judicial activist what they mean is somebody who agrees with them. When liberals talk about a judicial activist, what they mean is somebody who agrees with them. I don't think that in reality this term has any meaning other than rhetoric," Totenberg says.
In other words, those who say they don't want "activist judges" really do, if they support their beliefs. And, Turley says the term has become so politically charged, it affects who a president nominates.
"We have a system that largely relies on chance, because politically you don't want to appoint someone who could be accused of being a judicial activist," he says. "The tendency is to appoint someone whose never said or done anything particularly interesting in their career."
Filed under: Just Sayin'
Welcome to the American Morning blog where you can get daily news updates from American Morning's reporters and producers. Join us for "the most news in the morning," weekdays from 6-9 a.m. ET, only on CNN.