Saturday, March 11, 2006

Retired Supreme Court Justice O'Connor Warns Of Dictatorship

Sandra Day O’Connor, the recently retired Supreme Court justice, no longer faces the obligation of keeping her mouth shut. Last Thursday, in a speech at Georgetown University, she openly criticized Republicans who criticized the courts.

O'Connor said that Republicans challenge the independence of judges and the freedoms of all Americans.

O’Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms. O’Connor began by conceding that courts do have the power to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it “really, really angry.” "But," she continued, "if we don’t make them mad some of the time we probably aren’t doing our jobs as judges, and our effectiveness is premised on the notion that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts."

"The nation’s founders wrote repeatedly," she said, "that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from the other branches of government, those rights and privileges would amount to nothing." But, said O’Connor, "as the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don’t protect judicial independence, people do."

And then, without actually naming names, she took aim at former House GOP leader Tom DeLay. She quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group JUSTICE SUNDAY last year when DeLay went after the courts for rulings on abortion, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case. This, said O’Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress’ one-time only statute about Schiavo as it was written. Not, said O’Connor, as the congressman might have wished it were written. This response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O’Connor, her voice dripping with sarcasm, was that the congressman blasted the courts.

It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn’t help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with. She didn’t name him, but it was Texas senator John Cornyn who made that statement, after a Georgia judge was murdered in the courtroom and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge’s home. O’Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms, recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges, stripping the courts of jurisdiction and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decisions that political leaders disagree with.

"I," said O’Connor, "am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning."

Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

This summary is from the Raw Story. The audio can be heard at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5255712.

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