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.
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