O’Connor, Ginsburg Assail Extremists

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, at a March 9 speech at Georgetown University, warned of the dangers of dictatorship in the United States. The sole reporter present, Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio, reported her remarks.

Noting that the court is premised on the notion that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts,” O’Connor decried the threats made last year during the Terry Schiavo debate.

“We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary.”

Without naming him, O’Connor criticized then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for saying: “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.” She likewise singled out public statements by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, also not naming him, for publicly suggesting that unaccountable judges might be to blame for episodes of courthouse violence.

O’Connor noted that judicial bullying is a hallmark of how dictators do business in the former Communist and Third World countries:

“It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.”

She said “naked partisan reasoning” could prove disastrous for checks and balances.

In a similar vein, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a Feb. 7 speech before the Constitutional Court of South Africa, criticized Congressional attempts to bar the citation of foreign law, on such touchy issues as the death penalty, abortion and gay rights, in Supreme Court rulings.

Ginsburg acknowledged that non-U.S. court rulings are not “controlling,” but can be a source of common standards of fairness.

While attempts to muzzle justices have not been successful, Ginsburg warned “it is disquieting that they have attracted sizeable support. And one not-so-small concern–they fuel the irrational fringe.”

This danger, Ginsburg said, is exemplified by a posting on an Internet chat room last year calling on “commandoes” to ensure that she and O’Connor “will not live another week.”

In a speech in February 2001 before an Australian audience, Ginsburg, commenting on DeLay’s proposal to impeach judges over rulings, joked that he “is not an attorney but, I’m told, an exterminator by profession.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation