Sandy Speaks-- But No One Listens

"Judges who are afraid -- whether they fear for their jobs or fear for their lives -- cannot adequately fulfill the considerable responsibilities that the position demands," former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote today in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. "In these challenging and difficult times, we must recommit ourselves to maintaining the independent judiciary that the Framers sought to establish." Do yourself a favor and take the time to read O'Connor piece (even if it means you do not have the time to read the rest of this post).

Madam Justice is talking, loudly and often, about the concerted effort by members of her own Republican Party to denigrate judges and to diminish the independence and authority of the judiciary. She sees the harm it already has caused among her former colleagues and the enormous potential it has to cause even more damage in the future. She sees the centuries-old respect for life-tenured judges being chopped away, one vitriolic soundbyte after another, as part of a coordinated effort by the most heinous politicians to blame their own miserable failings upon judges. Like her friend and colleague, the late Chief Justice of the United States William H. Rehnquist, O'Connor understands that the phrase "judicial activist" is just a slur that politicians and their tribunes use to tar the reputations of good and decent jurists of all political persuasions.

But for once few are listening to O'Connor. In her op-ed, she cites an ominous anti-judge movement in South Dakota but there are other dark forces at work, in Montana and Colorado and elsewhere, that are trying to limit the independence of judges. These unhappy people do not accept as part of the regular course of governance judicial rulings that go against their interests or their causes. To them, a ruling they don't agree with is a call to arms, a shot across the bow, another sign that the country is going to hell because it is not going along with their view of the world. In other words, these people project onto professional judges their own petty partisanship; their own poisoned view of politics and the rule of law. In their minds, judges think and act precisely as cynically and as short-sightedly and as cravenly as they do and so, naturally, judges should be hobbled far beyond what the Founders either delineated or contemplated. This is the rotten foundation upon which the whole anti-judiciary house is built. And all O'Connor and a few other brave judges and lawyers are doing is identfiying it as such.

Justice O'Connor will forever be known as the first female Supreme Court Justice. Her place in American history already is ensured. But as a leading spokeswoman in this new cause, she actually may be doing something more important, in the long-run, than anything she did on the Bench. I didn't always agree with her rulings or her reasoning. But her defense of the judiciary is truly a profile in courage.

By Andrew Cohen |  September 27, 2006; 2:00 PM ET
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Keep in mind that there have been a lot of people "project[ing] onto professional judges their own petty partisanship" since Bush v. Gore in 2000, and those people by and large have not been Republicans.

Posted by: Tom T. | September 27, 2006 07:38 PM

By the way, I pick on your pieces from time to time, but that's only because they're so engaging. You're an excellent writer, but the Post hides your blog from public view. You should be listed on the homepage along with Raw Fisher, On Balance, etc.

Posted by: Tom T. | September 27, 2006 07:40 PM

Mr. Cohen is wrong. A judge needs only integrity and courage to be independent. Judges in our society are given great power. In adition to that power they demand complete security and immunity. No one else in our society has these privilidges.
Judges sit on human courts not at the right hand of GOD. To say that Judges should not be accountable is to imagine that they are infallible. This is foolish. To imagine that there are only nine people in the country that are qualified to sit on the Supreme Court is also foolish.
For a start at a very minimum life tenure for Federal Judges must be abolished.

Posted by: smorris | September 28, 2006 02:26 PM

The judiciary has done tremendous damage to its own prestige by acting just as its critics say. Too bad the Justice O'Connor didn't change that.

Posted by: rds | September 28, 2006 02:52 PM

I really hope that the people posting comments on this blog are neither lawyers nor Americans, because they are certainly not understanding how our entire legal system is set up. I will not try to argue with these commenters, because Justice O'Connor's piece says it much more eloquently than I ever could. But I will say that judges are never "unaccountable," and threats on their very lives is certainly not the way to go about making them accountable.

I, for one, fully support Justice O'Connor's efforts.

Posted by: OD | September 28, 2006 03:03 PM

Since Sandy denigrated the judiciary by helping to shove Bush down our throats in 2000, I'm not very interested in anything she has to say until she admits she made a horrendous mistake and apologizes to the nation.

Posted by: PGS | September 28, 2006 09:30 PM

Wow, PGS, that's a really great point of view. I'm glad you're petty enough to ignore a real problem in our country just because the messenger is someone you personally disagree with.

at least you're mature enough not to hold grudges...

Posted by: WP | September 28, 2006 09:48 PM

I have admired Justice O'Connor for many years I just wish she could have seen what we all saw years ago
and done something to prevent what has become of the judiciary; being just another unfettered state sponsored pawn of the BushCheneyRummy cabal, as is the Senate, as is Congress, as is the state run media
(winks to propaganda specialists FOXNEWS)

Posted by: impeachw | September 30, 2006 02:54 AM

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