U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

October 28, 2023

Without Fear or Favor

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

I am a lawyer by training and profession. I have studied the Constitution, our nation’s fundamental laws, as well as statutes that would follow and help clarify or define our system of government. I’ve written more than a few laws in Annapolis and Washington, as well.

Throughout our nation’s history, laws have not always been fully inclusive and they have even been unjust, but overall it is the “Rule of Law” that makes our society function. In the United States of America, we strive each day to make our laws and our democracy better for all.

As President Biden described earlier this year in celebration of “Law Day,” which we mark annually on May 1:

When our Founding Fathers convened to write the Constitution … they set in motion an experiment that changed the world. America would not be a land of kings but a Nation of laws. Since then, generations of Americans have worked to defend and improve our laws, hold accountable those who break or undermine them, and ensure equal rights and protections for all.  On Law Day, we celebrate the rule of law and rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of a more perfect Union.”

The Rule of Law is tested regularly. Daily. Hourly.

Even knowing this, I was shocked to learn about the murder last week of Judge Andrew Wilkinson outside his home in Hagerstown. Judge Wilkinson sat as a Washington County Circuit Court Judge from 2020 until his death.

Our Constitution vests judicial power in a supreme court and “inferior” or lower courts. Judges must have the independence to make decisions based on the facts and the law, without fear or favor. The Constitution outlines “judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made…”

Without fear. Judge Wilkinson apparently was targeted and killed by a man due to his recent ruling against the suspect in a pending divorce and custody case. He was targeted for doing his job, upholding the Rule of Law.

I offer my condolences to Judge Wilkinson’s family, friends and all those touched by his public service. No one should have to endure the anguish of having a loved one ripped away in such a manner. There is no excuse for this kind of violence, especially against an officer of the court.

The Maryland State Committee of the American College of Trial Lawyers put it well when they said, in response to Judge Wilkinson’s assassination, “We cannot tolerate violence or threats of violence against judges or any other public servants at work, home or any other location. Judges must be free to fulfill their judicial duties fearlessly, deciding cases solely on the basis of the facts and the law, without being concerned that an aggrieved party will exact retribution.”

Time Magazine reports that “threats against federal judges have spiked 400% in the past six years, to more than 3,700 in 2022, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.” Threats have grown more explicit and more dangerous. Judges, and their families, should not live in fear for doing the job they are sworn to do. As a nation and as a people, we cannot accept this.

The Rule of Law may not be perfect, but individuals like Judge Wilkinson worked to make it better and more just every day. His passion clearly was for serving his local community and for this, Judge Wilkinson will be sorely missed.

Without fear or favor. Once judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, we do not have “Democratic judges” or “Republican judges.” As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 78: “The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution.” Judges are supposed to make rulings based on following the facts of a particular case and applying the law, and not political opinions or favoritism.

Our Constitution provides special protections for federal judges, in terms of granting them lifetime appointments and a guaranteed salary, which cannot be reduced. With these unique protections come important responsibilities. Judges must exhibit integrity and avoid even the perception of impropriety or conflicts of interest.

Judges being impartial and avoiding unethical behavior sounds obvious. For this reason, it has been disturbing to learn more and more about the incredible lapses in ethics at the Supreme Court – our highest arbiter of the Rule of Law. Federal judges take a special oath to “administer justice with respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.” Yet as I have previously written, when justices accept lavish undisclosed gifts and travel from mega donors with interests before the court, it is hard to reconcile how they thought it was remotely acceptable behavior.

The Rule of Law is critical to the ability of the United States to function as a democracy.  But as my dear friend the late Congressman John Lewis used to say, “democracy is not a state, it is an act.”

As citizens, as a community and as a nation, we must act. We cannot accept threatening words or violent actions that are meant to degrade and deconstruct our democracy through fear or intimidation. We all must step up to protect the Rule of Law.

Congress took action last year to strengthen judicial security for our federal judges by passing the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, named after the son of a judge who was killed by a disgruntled litigant seeking to assassinate the judge in the case. This law will help to protect judges’ personally identifiable information from resale by data brokers. It also will allow federal judges to redact personal information displayed on federal government internet sites, and prevent publication of personal information by other businesses and individuals where there is no legitimate news media or other public interest. There is more work ahead.

If history teaches us anything, it is that the Rule of Law and our democracy works best when we are all engaged. Despite recent tragedies and aggressive attempts to sow seeds of mistrust in our democratic institutions, we as a country will continue to come together to protect the rule of law and protect constitutional rights.

Thank you for your time. Thank you for what you do every day to protect our communities and support the Rule of Law. Please feel free to reply to this email with your comments and concerns on this or any other topic.


Ben Cardin