These fine Corinthian columns in front of this state Supreme Court building are part of the solemn architecture of independence enjoyed by America's judiciary.
Legislators worry about the political winds and set up the laws. Judges figure out whether those laws square with president and the Constitution.
But the idea of an independent judiciary is under assault. Judges find themselves targets of organized groups that don't like the way the judges rule in such highly charged areas as abortion.
Correspondent Juju Chang and producer Brenda Breslauer have our story.
JUJU CHANG: Our story begins in sunny West Palm Beach Florida: Home to a 13-year-old girl known only by her initials… LG. These are the companions of her childhood, preserved by her mother, who lost custody because of abuse and neglect when LG was just nine years old. She's been in foster care ever since.
MAXINE WILLIAMS: LG is very sensitive -- very smart. She's very sad about being in foster care.
JUJU CHANG: Maxine Williams is LG's legal aide attorney. LG hates being a ward of the state, so much so that she's run away repeatedly, from group homes, shelters, even foster families. The last time she fled, in January, she was gone for a month. And turned up pregnant. She was just thirteen years old.
MAXINE WILLIAMS: Her wish was to terminate her pregnancy. And she articulated very well I thought that she didn't have the means or the ability to take care of a baby. And I think she made a sound decision for her.
MAXINE WILLIAMS: After two weeks of counseling on her various options, the date for her abortion was set. But suddenly the pregnant teen was caught in the crossfire of the culture wars. It was April, just weeks after Terri Schiavo's death had polarized the county and energized the religious right. The state of Florida swung into action again. The morning of the scheduled abortion, the Department of Children and Families, or DCF, filed an emergency motion to stop LG from terminating her pregnancy.
MAXINE WILLIAMS: It was quite a surprise. So I called DCF, and, you know, they explained that they were directed to do this by Tallahassee. That they had no choice.
MAXINE WILLIAMS: Tallahassee is where the Florida Department of Children and Families is headquartered. It's also where Governor Jeb Bush works.
GOV. JEB BUSH: The department did the right thing to make sure that this was reviewed carefully. We're talking about the loss of a life.
JUJU CHANG: He's called himself the most pro-life governor in modern times.
MAXINE WILLIAMS: My reaction was this is all politics. It's not about LG. It's about showing his base, his supporters, this is what his ideology is. This is what he's going to fight for.
JUJU CHANG: In court, the State of Florida argued that it could not consent to an abortion for a foster child because of state law.
MAXINE WILLIAMS: They just said, "We think she's too young. And we're the state. We have the right to prevent her. And we want to prevent her permanently from ever having one." It was the judge-- and the judge was surprised by-- he was like, "Really? That's what you're asking for?"
JUJU CHANG: Juvenile Court Judge Ron Alvarez was surprised because he'd never seen such an intervention during his twelve years on the bench.
JUDGE ALVAREZ: This is the only case that I know of, that anyone knows of, where the Department has come forward and refused to consent. Or even raised the issue.
JUJU CHANG: Judge Alvarez agreed to a rare on camera interview he says because judges are being increasingly intimidated in highly charged cases like this one.
When I opened up the motion, I said, "Oh, gee, this is-- this is..."
Well, they had a few expletives before that. No. It was a political car bomb.
JUJU CHANG: The legal issues at the center of the culture wars abortion, the right to die or gay marriage have always inflamed public passions. What's new is an organized movement by the religious right to put public pressure on the judges themselves.
DR. SCARBOROUGH: Radical judicial activism must be confronted by the church of the living God now.
JUJU CHANG: Dr. Rick Scarborough, an evangelical minister from Texas, is on a crusade to bring religion back into the public square. His goal? To target judges he believes rule against the Christian right's agenda.
So you think that activist judges are wiping away the will of the people?
Often. I would start with the removal of prayer in schools, removal of Bible reading in schools, the striking down of the Ten Commandments. Christianity is being expunged right now while the majority of our people in this nation are very religious people.
JUJU CHANG: At a time when judges have become the hot button issue, Scarborough's views echo some of the most powerful voices of the religious right.
PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: We do not want to be ruled by these elite judiciary who thinks they are smarter than everybody else.
PAT ROBERTSON: They are destroying the fabric that holds our nation together. There is an assault on marriage. There's an assault on human sexuality.
JAMES DOBSON: They're unelected and unaccountable and arrogant and imperious and they're out of control. And I think they need to be reined in.
And who gets to define which laws are good and which laws are bad? Who gets to define what judicial activism is?
Finally, the American people. And that's why I'm engaged in this. My first love, Juju, is preaching the Gospel and I never, for the first 20 years of my ministry, envisioned that I'd be sitting here today talking about national political issues. But I finally concluded that while we were winning elections and mobilizing Christians to the polls we were still losing the cultural war because judges are striking down every effort we put forth to bring civility to the public place.
It's interesting to me that you said that you're fighting the decline of civility in our culture. Because there are many on the other side of the political aisle who would accuse you of the same thing.
Well, we'll let the people decide. The-- this is, after all, politics.
JUSTICE CRAIG ENOCH: There are no easy answers. And I guess, since there are no easy answers, you just attack the judges.
JUJU CHANG: Justice Craig Enoch is a pro-life, life long Republican but he takes issue with what he sees as potentially dangerous attacks on judges. Enoch served twenty two years on the Supreme Court in Texas, a state where the culture wars have often been defined. The state legislature recently debated a ban on sexy cheerleading and a prohibition against gay couples becoming foster parents.
Tucked into an 18-page abortion bill on parental consent was a provision to publish a list of judges' names and their decisions in cases involving abortions for minors, something not done in any other type of case. Enoch argues this law would make those judges targets in the midst of political warfare.
JUSTICE CRAIG ENOCH: What got my attention was, in the middle of this war, why would someone think it interesting or important to say, we want to put on the Internet the name of the judge and the decision the judge makes. And open up that to kind of-- on like the front page of a newspaper.
JUJU CHANG: Justice Enoch, now retired, says that puts additional pressure on judges in a state like Texas where most judges are elected. But there's also a more ominous fear.
JUSTICE ENOCH: I fully understand that difficult decisions is what judging is all about. My particular concern though in the family law context is where emotions run extremely high. And in this issue, on consent for an abortion, where emotions run even higher, that there is a concern I had for literally the physical safety of the judge.
JUJU CHANG: And he has reason for concern. In March, a judge in Atlanta was shot to death in his courtroom. A month earlier, the husband and mother of a federal judge in Chicago were murdered in their home by an angry litigant. Justice Enoch has his own story.
JUSTICE ENOCH: While I served on the Court of Appeals, two of my colleagues were shot. Now they survived. But the lawyer that was in the courtroom died. So I have a very real concern.
JUJU CHANG: Justice Enoch testified about his fears before the Texas legislature. Just two weeks ago, the bill was signed, but the provision about publishing judges names didn't make it into law.
But that's not stopping religious conservatives like Scarborough, who's pushing other more "creative" tactics to pressure judges.
When a judge misbehaves, when he defies the will of the people and, I would say, defined by exceeding Constitutional authority, then simply remove his funding. Let him convene his court in his car with no assistance, no courtroom and I mean, he's appointed for life, let him live for life. Pay his salary, just don't pay his court.
And who would be left to rule on-- contracts, conflicts and--
We're not talking about all judges.
So punish certain judges that you point out?
JUDGE ALVAREZ: It's a very hostile environment. Somebody has made us out to be a boogie man. And I don't know of any judge that enjoys that. We have a very simple job. Our job is like an umpire in baseball. Pitcher you throw it, I'll call it.
JUJU CHANG: The way Alvarez would call it, in LG's case, put him at odds with the religious right. Audiotape of the teenagers compelling courtroom testimony, usually confidential, became public.
LG: "I don't think I should have the baby because I'm 13, I'm in a shelter and I can't get a job." "It would make no sense to have the baby. "Why can't I make my own decision?"
JUJU CHANG: There was also a health risk for a girl of LG's young age.
The evidence that I had was that if she continued to carry the child, her chances of dying would be three times that-- compared to if she underwent the abortion.
In your view how do you think the State failed LG?
She was missing for 30 days. She became pregnant during that time. At no time, did the Department come to me and say to me, your child - and that's - that's really my child statutorily right now. Your child is missing. We want you to enter a pick up order. The only time she came to their notice was when she got pregnant and wanted an abortion. I think they failed her all the way around until such time it was politically convenient to make her important.
JUJU CHANG: Ironically, once LG became a national cause, Maxine Williams says the state's red tape disappeared speeding up medical tests and other requests.
MAXINE WILLIAMS: Nothing was forthcoming and we were getting the runaround. And people weren't calling us back. And shortly after this incident happened and there was all of the attention, then the clothes materialized immediately. The psychological could be moved up. I mean, it was-- it was amazing.
JUJU CHANG: Ultimately, Judge Alvarez ruled that the law required him to grant LG the abortion. Finally, after appealing twice, the state dropped the case. At 14 and a half weeks, LG had an abortion.
Were you being judicial a judicial activist in this particular case?
You were just calling it as you it?
There's the law. The law says this. This is the way it applies to this young girl. Does she have the constitutional right to make the decision for herself? The courts before me have said yes. If I had been an activist, I'd have said no.
JUJU CHANG: The high profile nature of the case meant unwanted pressure directed at the judge's personal life. Alvarez is a Catholic who believes his faith should have nothing to do with his legal decisions.
An official from the local Catholic Dioceses called your office and asked who your priest was.
What was your reaction to that? Not just as a judge, but as a Catholic?
Well, I was hurt that anyone would do that. My understanding of Jesus is that he's a pretty nice guy. And that when I went to parochial school I was taught he's not going to judge you. So, for somebody to pick up the phone and say, hmm, you've been bad in the eyes of the Church, and we're not going to give you Communion. That's-- hmm. That's not the Church I grew up in.
Do you think that call was meant to intimidate you?
Sure. Oh, absolutely. But not so much just me. But every other judge that gets a high profile case like this. Whether it's abortion. Whether it's gay rights. Sure.
JUJU CHANG: But religious conservatives defend these tactics as a right of free speech, or even a duty, for clergy.
Judge Alvarez, said that he felt that that was an act of intimidation. Do you think that that's fair?
Do you think that the baby in that young lady's womb was intimidated by the decision to take his life or her life? The-- why can't Christians and preachers do what they were called to do? We're grow-- you're reflecting the view that preachers ought to have their hands tied, that they can't even practice their faith. In the Catholic order, abortion is a sin.
What would be wrong if a judge started putting their own personal faith above the law?
What would be wrong? You would be in a state of utter chaos. A Catholic judge could never be assigned to the domestic division, because the Catholic Church doesn't believe in divorce. We do divorces all the time. You can never be assigned to the Criminal Division, because we have to impose the death sentence, and the Catholic Church doesn't believe in the death sentence.
Once you start mixing religion and the law, you're no longer going to make decisions based upon the law. We're being critical of Iran that they're permitting their law to be interpreted according to the Koran. I think that's what we're asking the judges in this country to do.
JUJU CHANG: Judge Alvarez is not the only Florida judge to have his case come under scrutiny by his church.
PROTESTOR: We're going to Judge Greer's home to pray.
JUJU CHANG: In the matter Of Terri Shiavo, the judge, George Greer, received this letter from the pastor of his Baptist church.
"It is this case which will define your career and this case that you will remember in the waning days of life. I hope you can find a way to side with the angels."
JUDGE ALVAREZ: I talked to Judge Greer a couple of weeks ago and he old me that his pastor had asked him to give up his membership in the church, which he ultimately did. And that hurt him a lot, he's been a lifelong Baptist. Nice man.
If he had been a member of my church, I would have attempted to remove him from my roles as well.
You would have?
Oh, you bet.
Why shouldn't judges be sensitive to what the public wants?
Well, I guess African Americans would still be going to separate but equal schools if that was-- if we went on public opinion. Public opinion is not always correct. It may be for the moment. But things change.
JUJU CHANG: So where does all this debate leave LG? The attention brought inquires from people wanting to adopt her. As long as she kept the baby.
MAXINE WILLIAMS: It's really sad that she's here and is such a special kid. And there are people who would just-- no one seems to be interested in her, they want her only for something else. I think one of her biggest complaints was, "Nobody cared before. And why do they care now?"
JUJU CHANG: Two weeks ago LG turned 14. She is no longer on the front lines of the culture wars. But a month after she ended her pregnancy, Jeb Bush signed a new law. It requires Florida doctors to notify parents or guardians before an abortion.
JUDGE ALVAREZ: My case is over. But the issues that have driven it -- is seem to still to be at the forefront. And there-- those issues are destroying a whole bunch of the fabric of this country.