What power do politicians have when it comes to court cases? For example, the Kyle Rittenhouse case is about to end, and some people believe that the judge in the case is biased against the prosecution, sometimes seen lashing out against the prosecution and acting unprofessional.

What can politicians do in cases like these, where the judge is not acting the way the politicians believe he is supposed to?

  • 2
    You'd have to specify a kind of politician. City councilmember, governor? President/ Nov 13 at 4:59
  • The United States has 51 different jurisdictions and so there are 51 different answers to this question, depending upon how exact you want the answer to be (plus the 5 territories and the UCMJ, so maybe 57 depending upon how you count), and that is ignoring the innumerable municipal courts.
    – jmoreno
    Nov 13 at 15:51

In a well-functioning democracy, the judiciary is independent from the other branches of the government. Executive and legislative politicians do not have the means to influence the decisions of the judges. And there is a good reason for that: Elected politicians are supposed to do what their constituents want. Judges, on the other hand, are supposed to follow the law, regardless of the public opinion about the case they are judging. So giving the executive or legislative branch power over the judiciary would make it impossible for the judges to do that and instead turn the judicial process into mob justice.

The Rittenhouse trial is a perfect example of why this is important. The case is extremely politicized. The trial is supposed to decide the fate of one individual person. But due to the political circumstances, that person is perceived as a stand-in for a whole political idea. So politicians and activists from all sides of the political spectrum are fighting for the public perception of the case. Everyone with an opinion about that political idea looks at Rittenhouse and sees what they want to see. Some want to see him as a crazy lunatic using civil unrest as an excuse to go on a killing spree. Others want to see him as a patriot defending life and property against a lawless mob. What is the truth? That is for a judge and jury to decide. And they are supposed to decide based on the facts and the law. Not by which political pundits shout the loudest.

However, judicial independence does not mean that judges can do what they want. When someone feels that they were treated unfairly during a criminal trial, there are other ways they might overturn the judgment. There are revisions, mistrials can be declared, judges themselves might find themselves on trial for "perverting the course of justice" and others. If you would like to know more about how the legal system polices itself and about how criminal convictions or acquittals can be overruled, please ask Law Stack Exchange.

  • 1
    There's one caveat to note in the last part of the answer, criminal convictions can be appealed, not acquittals. Exceptions like defendant was never in actual jeopardy, e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Aleman, or if defendant is tried under a different jurisdiction, e.g. state/federal. In cases like the example, if the defendant is acquitted incorrectly, while the judge could be removed/sanctioned after the fact, different charges could be sought, civil charges could be sought, etc., there is no process to actually "correct" the case ruling itself, which adds to the political charge.
    – DariM
    Nov 14 at 23:44

Note: The following specifically addresses the Rittenhouse case and Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and is provided only as an example. Necessarily, there will some variation among the different states.

Q: What power do politicians have when it comes to court cases?

It is often the case that politicians are involved directly with court cases. For the Rittenhouse case, the district attorney (DA) is an elected official (politician) who assigned the case to an assistant DA (political aspirant) for prosecution. The judge hearing the case was appointed (political appointee) then reelected, repeatedly.

[Kenosha County] DA Mike Graveley
He is a Democrat who was a deputy DA before being elected DA in 2016. He was a long-time prosecutor who handled 200 jury trials, according to the Kenosha News. wisconsinrightnow.com

[Thomas] Binger is an assistant district attorney in the Kenosha County District Attorney's Office. He's one of 15 assistant DAs for Kenosha County.

He ran unsuccessfully for DA in Racine County, the county just north of Kenosha, in 2016. jsonline.com

[Judge Bruce] Schroeder is 75 years old and currently the longest-serving Circuit Court judge in Wisconsin. He was appointed in 1983 by Wisconsin's governor at the time, and he's won elections ever since. npr.com

Q: What can politicians do in cases like these, where the judge is not acting the way the politicians believe he is supposed to?

For the judge in the Rittenhouse case, file a complaint with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission.

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission was created to investigate and prosecute allegations of judicial misconduct or disability on the part of Wisconsin judges and court commissioners. wicourts.gov


It is worth noting that in Wisconsin, judges themselves are nonpartisan elected officials.

District attorneys are also elected officials and their lawyer subordinates are political appointees for all practical purposes. So is the attorney general who would handle some of the further appeals in the case if there was one.

Thus, there are politicians (broadly defined) involved in every criminal case at every level in Wisconsin.

Also, in the case of a criminal conviction, there is usually some politician in the jurisdiction, the President in federal criminal cases, and often, but not always, the Governor or a parole board, in state criminal cases, who has the power to grant commutations and pardons of duly obtained legal criminal convictions.

Likewise, in the federal system, and in most U.S. states, the legislature has the power to impeach judges and many appointed government officials in their jurisdiction, on grounds that vary from system to system. But this does not afford the legislature the right or the ability to interfere in the adjudication of a particular case in progress.


In the US system the Courts are independent. Politicians can't formally influence a judge. Politicians are supposed to shut up and let justice take its course. They have no legal power in the court case.

However politicians have a platform from which to criticise a court's decision. The can speak to the media, they can hold public meetings. And because of their public role, they are more likely to be listened to than a random person.

In theory the Judge should not be influenced by this (and judges are trained and are proud that they aren't easily swayed by anything but the law). Judges are supposed to follow the law, and not public opinion. In practice, judges are human.

In the USA, for a federal judge who has been failing in their duty to reach a fair decision, Congress does have the power of impeachment. This is rarely used and not simply because one set of politicians disagrees with a judge. It can be used when a judge has, for example, been corrupt. Congress can impeach, and if the judge is convicted in a Senate trial, they are removed from office. Impeachment and conviction is made intentionally hard. A simple majority can't convict on impeachment charges. The impeachment process is not intended to be abused to remove judges who are lawful and dutiful, even if that duty brings them into conflict with one group of politicians. So far, the impeachment process for judges hasn't been abused in this way.

This impeachment power is irrelevant to the Rittenhouse case, as the court is a state court, not a Federal Court. However Wisconsin law has procedures to remove a judge who fails to serve justice.

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