Monday, March 13, 2006

Justice O'Connor on Judicial Independence.



Sandra Day O'Connor has been in the news some lately for her public commentary on the subject of judicial independence. O'Connor has delivered a number of speeches since her "retirement" from the U.S. Supreme Court in which she has vigorously defended the notion of judicial independence.

In a speech on November 7 to the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers in Washington, D.C., O'Connor described "threats to judicial independence worldwide -- including an episode in the mid-1990s in Russia in which presidential guards killed the chief judge's pet cat." O'Connor noted that threats exist closer to home, and she pointed specifically to speeches and public comments by Tom DeLay criticizing court decisions striking down school prayer and involving the Terri Schiavo case and a speech by John Cornyn suggesting a cause and effect relationship between "judicial activism" and courthouse violence.

O'Connor implored the attorneys in the audience to protect judicial independence. According to O'Connor:

There is no natural constituency for judicial independence except for a vibrant, responsible lawyer class. We can't just trust the courts to protect themselves.


O'Connor made a similar speech last week at Georgetown University. She again called out GOP leaders for posing "a direct threat" to constitutional freedoms by attacking judges and the judiciary. She again pointed specifically to past speeches and commentary by DeLay and Cornyn. Speaking about DeLay's commens on the Schiavo case, O'Connor noted that the courts became involved only after Congress passed a "one-time-only statute about Schiavo" and that the courts applied the statute "as it was written -- not as the Congressman might have wished it were written. The response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint was that the Congressman blasted the courts" for judicial "activism."

Ann Althouse noted over the weekend that O'Connor's speeches on this subject appear to basically relate to incidents that are "old news" in many respects and appear to be primarily a recycling of speeches, rather than new material. As Althouse notes:

Listening to Totenberg's report, I got the feeling she'd heard a stock speech composed a year ago. It referenced those old Cornyn and DeLay remarks, as Totenberg reports. I agree with O'Connor's points and think Totenberg put together a spiffy report, but it felt like a report from last year, too stale to address. Cornyn and DeLay haven't continued with that idiocy, and a lot of things have happened since then. Why not address those things? Why not say something about how the push-back against Cornyn and DeLay changed their behavior? Maybe she did say some other things that would have seemed fresher. I don't know. I don't have the text to use to find other things that might inspire some blogging. But the text is withheld. Why? Well, one reason for not releasing the text of a speech is because you want to deliver the same speech over and over again.

The topic, judicial independence, and Justice O'Connor's public voice continuing to advocate for independence, is likely going to be an ongoing story. Hopefully the almost universal respect that O'Connor brings to the table will enable her to be a forceful voice on this important topic, and hopefully she will continue to deliver public commentary on it. Hopefully she will also manage to deliver some "new" material to further support her advocacy.

Other Links:
NPR Audio
RawStory "rush" transcript.

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