Ex-Justice O'Connor moans about threats to judicial autonomy
"I'm increasingly concerned about the current climate of challenge to judicial independence," O'Connor told a gathering of state judges from around the country Friday. "Unhappiness with judges today is at a very intense level."
The judiciary is the weakest of the three branches of government, she said, and therefore the one with "the greatest need to be defended."
The judiciary is certainly not the weakest of the three branches of government. On constitutional questions, court decisions can be overturned only by constitutional amendment, and amending the constitution at the federal level is a very cumbersome process -- there has not been a significant new federal constitutional amendment since the 18-year-old vote was ratified in 1971 (the only amendment since then was a trivial one on Congressional pay). If the issue is not constitutional, a court decision is virtually impossible to overturn. Federal judges have tenure and protection from pay cuts. I would say that the executive branch is the weakest branch -- it can be easily thwarted by either of the other two branches.
The article continues,
The executive and legislative branches have become the attackers, so "the principal defenders are going to have to be the people of this country," with lawyers taking the lead, she said.
O'Connor, who retired in January after 24 years on the nation's highest court, spoke just days before South Dakota voters consider the "Jail 4 Judges" initiative. It would create a citizens' grand jury that could authorize lawsuits or criminal prosecutions against judges based on their rulings.
Actually, in South Dakota it is just the opposite -- the people are the attackers and the legislators are trying to defend the judges. Both houses of the legislature voted unanimously in favor of a resolution opposing the "Jail 4 Judges" ballot proposition, also known as Amendment E. However, a recent Zogby poll showed 67% support for Amendment E -- hopefully it will pass.
A related article on this blog is Backlash against judges.
Labels: Judicial independence