Now she speaks

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is worried about “dictatorship.” Her remarks at an event at Georgetown were reported by Nina Totenberg and posted at Raw Story.

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.

…she took aim at former House GOP leader Tom DeLay. She didn’t name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year…


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…

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.

And now the punch-line:

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 strongarm 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.

So, do you suppose she regrets joining the coup?

h/t Michael J.W. Stickings

0 thoughts on “Now she speaks

  1. Pray, tell, was she warning us about liberal politicians such as FDR?

    “Shall the Supreme Court be turned into the personal organ of the President?…If Congress answers yes, the principle of an impartial and independent judiciary will be lost in this country.” – Chicago Tribune, Feb 7, 1937

    A very valid warning from O’Connor, I should say. Cheers to that.


  2. The implication that O’Connor was warning us about liberals is comical.

    I am, however, grateful for the reference to the “court packing” of Roosevelt. Let’s put it in perspective. The Supreme Court at the time was blocking reforms by a president elected in time of crisis by 57.4% of the votes and reelected in 1936 with 60.8%. His party, which was a diverse and only loosely disciplined internal coalition, held 74% of the seats in the House of Representatives, on 56.3% of the votes in 1936, and also held 76% of the Senate seats.

    The current administration, on the other hand, was put in power by the Supreme Court after having lost the election of 2000, and was reelected with less than 51% of the vote in 2004. The party backing it–highly disciplined and probably the most ideological major party we have ever seen in this country–has held narrow majorities in the House, based on less than a majority of votes the entire time, except for the 50.6% won in the (very low-turnout) “terrorism election” of 2002. Its 55% majority in the Senate is based on less than a plurality of the votes. And this ruling party is working towards using the courts as a facilitator of its narrow agenda.

    I am not defending Roosevelt’s “court packing” but the situations are not even remotely parallel.


  3. Excellent points, Matthew. And thanks for picking up on this story (which really hasn’t gotten much attention either in the MSM or in the blogosphere — is it just so self-evident now that the threat from the right isn’t really news at all?)


  4. The question remains: Does SDO’C regret her decision in Bush v Gore? Remember, she was considered the swing-voter on that Supreme Court.


  5. I do not favour recall or impeachment of judges, or jurisdiction-stripping, and I am lukewarm on fixed judicial terms. I do, however, favour mandatory retirement ages for judges. The former changes would move away from “the rule of law, not the rule of individuals”, but fixed retirement ages would move closer to that ideal.


  6. I think a long, non-renewable fixed term is desirable for a constitutional court. South Africa and Germany both follow this model. Among other things this reduces the capacity of an executive/legislative cabal to entrench judges friendly to their cause by ensuring regular judicial vacancies.

    I’d support judicial retention elections for the same reason. It’s worth nothing that a recent California supreme court decision has given rise to the usual claque about ‘unelected judges’ despite the fact that California supreme court judges have to face the people soon after appointment.


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