Friday, March 17, 2006

Speaking out...


It has been only a matter of weeks since Sandra Day O'Connor retired as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but the former rancher from Arizona is not riding quietly into the sunset.

At a recent speech to lawyers at Georgetown University, O'Connor let it be known that she is appalled by the way Republicans in Congress have attacked the nation's judges. She forcefully warned that without an independent judiciary, the nation would find itself under a "dictatorship."

The remarkable speech didn't get much notice, since it wasn't made available for broadcast and no transcript was produced. Only NPR, it seems, had its legal correspondent, Nina Totenberg, there to capture O'Connor's oration, and thankfully she took detailed notes. Totenberg reported that O'Connor said the freedom of all Americans is at risk when the judiciary is threatened with retaliation for its rulings. While not mentioning names, O'Connor pointed to the irresponsible comments of former House GOP leader Rep. Tom DeLay and Sen. John Cornyn, both from Texas.

Last year, DeLay excoriated the judiciary for its rulings on abortion, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case at a Justice Sunday meeting, an event organized by conservative Christian groups to denounce "activist" judges. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," DeLay said, hinting at some vengeance to come for the judges in the Schiavo case. O'Connor retorted that the courts in the Schiavo case had followed the law as it was written and not as the congressman might have wished it were written.

Cornyn went even further, suggesting there might be a connection between the terrible violence that had befallen a couple of judges and their families last year and the "political" way judges rule.

O'Connor decried these diatribes as well as the naked partisanship driving calls for judicial reform. She worried aloud about efforts to strip the courts of jurisdiction over certain kinds of cases, the cutting of judicial budgets and the call for impeachment of judges just because they issue an unpopular rulings.

O'Connor said those who would strong-arm the judiciary into following some predetermined path are moving the country toward dictatorship. She was not being hysterical or overwrought. O'Connor acknowledged that it takes a lot of degeneration before a dictatorship takes hold. "But we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings," she said.

The independence of our judiciary is what breathes life into terms like liberty, justice and fairness, and when Republican leaders attack the courts through demagoguery or legislative action, they are eroding an integral part of what keeps this nation free. We hope O'Connor speaks out again on this issue. Her warnings cannot come often or loudly enough.

A Times Editorial
Published March 17, 2006


ConnieJane said...

Her Honor will be missed on the Supreme Court.
Hopefully, as a private citizen, she will continue to speak out.

sttropezbutler said...

She managed to light the wasn't expected.

I too hope she continues to speak.


Hypoxic said...

She will be missed on the Court - truly missed.