… but the third [branch of the government, the federal judiciary], unfortunately & unwisely, made independant not only of the nation but even of their own conduct, have hitherto bid defiance to the public will, and erected themselves into a political body with the assumed functions of correcting what they deem the errors of the nation.
To Gideon Granger, October 22, 1810
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
ALL leaders should be accountable to their constituents.
Preceding this excerpt, Jefferson expressed his pleasure that the legislative and executive branches remained republican (small r), giving themselves to the “great reformation in our government” that occurred with the election of 1800. The courts were another matter.
Federal judges were appointed for life. Some of the still-serving justices were Federalists, political opponents appointed by President Adams before he left office in 1801. The means of impeaching justices for professional or personal misconduct were unenforceable. That left the judicial branch unanswerable to anyone but themselves. This allowed them to assume a role Jefferson never thought they were meant to have, passing judgment on the actions of the other two branches of the national government.
(Any number of times, I’ve read both Jefferson’s thoughts and others’ analysis of those thoughts regarding the proper role of the judiciary. I still can’t make sense of them.)