Thursday, March 16, 2006


Justice O'Connor on judicial independence

On NPR's Morning Edition Nina Totenberg reported on a speech by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor last Thursday, in which she blasted Republican leaders for trying to manipulate the courts by attacking and criticizing them:

In an unusually forceful and forthright speech, O'Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms.

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

O'Connor particularly called out, without naming them, criticisms by two legislators from Texas, Representative Tom DeLay and Senator John Cornyn. In general, she warned against using such tactics as impeachment and budget cuts as means of retaliation for decisions that political leaders disagree with. "I am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning."

On a topic that's especially resonant to me, she said, "We must be ever vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies," citing that behaviour as enabling dictatorships to flourish. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

We must, indeed, be vigilant, and we must stop such degeneration at its beginnings. We are, I believe well past the beginning, and, as I suggest here (and as others have suggested), it is well past time to do something about it. Thank you, Justice O'Connor, for reminding us of the importance of setting and enorcing limits on the executive and legistrative branches of government. And Justice Alito, you have big shoes to fill.

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