Justice O'Connor Criticizes Judicial Accountability Legislation
- Justice O'Connor CriticizesJudicial Accountability Legislation"She said the judiciary faces attack, such as in South Dakota, where voters considered a "Jail4Judges" measure in which an unsuccessful litigant could file a complaint and judges could be fined or jailed because of their rulings."
Teach about judiciary, O'Connor urges
Retired justice says public is becoming cynical about courtsJournal Sentinel
By GEORGIA PABST
Posted: May 7, 2008
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor urged more than 700 members of the legal and business community Wednesday afternoon to help educate the public about the need for an accountable and independent judiciary.Speaking at the Midwest Airlines Center at the 150th anniversary luncheon of the Milwaukee Bar Association, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court decried the "avalanche of advertising money" spent by special interest lobbies in states (such as Wisconsin) where judges are elected. "Often these ads misrepresent the facts and scare voters by talking about criminal, not civil, cases, and everything is subordinated to a sound bite," she said.
"They're what french fries are to nutrition - fattening, but not helpful," she said. "It's important that the judiciary be completely independent. Unfortunately, three-fourths of Americans are not familiar with this concept."
As a result, the public has become more cynical about the courts and is less likely to believe in a judiciary that's fair and impartial, she said. "Accountability and independence are two sides of the same coin, and judges have to avoid pressures and uphold the law."
She said the judiciary faces attack, such as in South Dakota, where voters considered a "Jail4Judges" measure in which an unsuccessful litigant could file a complaint and judges could be fined or jailed because of their rulings. The measure failed, she said.
A recent survey showed that two-thirds of Americans could name at least one judge on the Fox television show "American Idol," while less than one-tenth could identify the chief justice of the Supreme Court, she said.
To try to build a better understanding of the court system, she said, she's working with Arizona State University and Georgetown University on an interactive program that would show how courts work, who judges are, what they do and why they matter. Students would get to play the role of a judge and be given cases to consider based on the law and Constitution to build understanding and knowledge of the courts and their important roles, she said.
O'Connor lives in Arizona but said she spends July 4 holidays in Wisconsin, fishing near Cable.
She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1981 by President Reagan and served on the court for 24 years before retiring in 2006.
She was often a decisive swing vote on major legal issues such as abortion and the death penalty.