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What Is a Judicial Restraint?


Judges are often viewed to be powerful individuals since they hold positions of authority and can exercise their own discretion when it comes to rendering judgment on court cases. Because of the importance of judges and the authority given to them, philosophies have been developed in order to ensure that judges provide a fair and impartial judgment based on the spirit of the law as provided by the Constitution. This philosophy is referred to as judicial restraint.


Judicial restraint is seen to be a belief or philosophy that focuses on judges’ limiting their power with respect to interpreting the law in light of democracy and constitutional law. Thus, judges who subscribe to this particular philosophy render judgment that is in accordance with the language of the Constitution. This type of philosophy is seen in contrast with judicial activism, which is another belief that judges are given full discretion when rendering judgment.


The purpose of judicial restraint is to limit the immense authority and power given to judges. It is the belief of those who are judicially restrained that the legislature and subsequently the legislation must ultimately be the basis of the judgments issued. It also must be noted that judicial restraint respects the legal doctrine of stare decisis, which means upholding legal precedents provided for by past judges. It is also the purpose of judicial restraint to maintain a balance between the 3 branches of government—judicial, legislative, and executive. Thus, judicial restraint advocates law review rather than law modification.

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