Former judge warns of dictatorship

Sandra Day O'Connor  urged lawyers to speak out against
intimidation.

Sandra Day O'Connor urged lawyers to speak out against intimidation.
Photo: AFP

By Julian Borger in Washington
March 14, 2006

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR, a Republican-appointed judge who retired last month after 24 years on the Supreme Court, has said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's right-wingers continue to attack the judiciary.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University, Ms O'Connor said Republican leaders' repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could be contributing to a climate of violence against judges.

Ms O'Connor, nominated by Ronald Reagan as the first woman Supreme Court justice, declared: "We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary."

She pointed to autocracies in the developing world and former Communist countries as lessons on where interference with the judiciary might lead. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

In her address on Thursday, Ms O'Connor singled out a warning to the judiciary last year by Tom DeLay, the former Republican leader in the House of Representatives, over a court ruling in a controversial "right to die" case.

After the decision last March that ordered a brain-dead woman in Florida, Terri Schiavo, to be removed from life support, Mr DeLay said: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour."

Mr DeLay later called for the impeachment of judges involved in the case, and called for more scrutiny of "an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president".

Such statements were a "direct threat to our constitutional freedom" and lawyers must speak out against them, Ms O'Connor said.

The Guardian

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