Sandra Day O'ConnorReportedly Warns of Dictatorship

O’Connor told her Georgetown audience that judges can make presidents, Congress and governors “really really mad,” and that if judges don’t make people angry, they aren’t doing their job. But she said judicial effectiveness is “premised on the notion that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts.” While hailing the American system of rights and privileges, she noted that these don’t protect the judiciary, that “people do”:

Then, she took aim at former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. She didn’t name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year, when DeLay took out after the courts for its rulings on abortion, prayer, and the Terry Schiavo case. This, said O’Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress’ one-time-only statute about Schiavo as it was written, not, said O’Connor, as the Congressman might have wished it were written. The response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O’Conner, her voice dripping with sarcasm, was that the congressman blasted the courts.

It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn’t help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with. She didn’t name him, but it was Texas Sen. John Cornyn who made that statement after a Georgia judge was murdered in court and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge’s home.
Now, the kicker:

O’Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms – recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges stripping the courts of jurisdictions and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decision that political leaders disagree with

I, said O’ Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and formerly Communist countries, where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.

If Georgetown or anyone else has an audiotape or videotape of the retired justice’s words, we would strongly urge them to release it (with her permission). If the NPR report accurately reflects what she said, this rises to the level of President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 warning about the “military-industrial complex” – and should be heard by all.

While you may debate the importance of leaders and cults of personality in fascist states and dictatoriships, the unifying thread is generally the growth of the one-party political state. The Bolsheviks still had a chance to create a ‘democratic’ communist revolution, but instead they liquidated the Mensheviks and Social Democrats almost as soon as they seized power.

Bush doesn’t frighten me in the long run; the Republican Party does. If they can form a majority block, unaccountable except to themselves and present a unified effort to twist the political system to their exclusive benefit for long enough, then something like a dictatorship can happen, even in the US. Another terrorist attack on American soil would up those odds 10x.

Of course if they Democrats cannot present anything but a collection of individuals more concerned with their own political careers then fundamental issues, we don’t have much of a chance in the long run. Most of the weaknesses of the Democratic party are from their own opportunistic natures, as well as trying to condescend to a growing mass of redneckism.

There is a bizarre quality about the American electorate and the growth of dictatorial tendancies. The American people hate government and leaders, yet turn Bush into some kind of walking saint, his virtue causing flowers to erupt in bloom from every footstep. More concernedly, they hold Bush accountable for ever success and failure in the government. The more people expect from the office of the President, the more license that office has to gather to itself all the power it can. And the more inefficient, irresponsible, or incompetent the rest of government is, the more urgent this accumulation of power to one elected man and his enormous bureaucracy of unelected officials becomes, as the only way to keep the trains on time.

I took an honors tutorial course on Politics, Elections, and Democracy in Latin America in college, taught by the renowned professor and Peru expert Henry Dietz. Not only was I fortunate to take the course at a University with a great Poli Sci department, I also had the resources of the Benson Library, the largest collection of texts on Latin America in the United States.

Chile caught my attention. Here, among all the other countries, was a place where democracy was the norm, not the exception, and yet it was currently suffering under a dictator considered notorious in a century where Stalin had set the bar.

How did democracy fail?

I studied Chile, and while studying, discovered that there was an entire series of books dedicated to the fall of democracy throughout the world. Chile, unlike any of the others, had an entire volume dedicated to it, penned by Chile expert and special advisor to Clinton, Arturo Valenzuela.

Democracy is pretty brittle stuff.

As human beings, we want a strong leader. As a group, we want someone with initiative, decisiveness, strength, charm and good looks to lead us to the promised land, and we perceive anything that stands in his way to be evil. In America, we set up the balance of powers and checks ‘n’ balances just to prevent that very thing.

But if the people do not support those checks and balances, they can be subverted and/or swept under the rug. The masses can be manipulated.

If our fear of terrorists and the minority religion they hide behind causes us to turn the president into an absolute dictator, it wouldn’t even be the first time a democracy had fallen into that trap.

Right, and you saw this happen very clearly in the French Revolution too. The state of terror that people were in made them very ready to accept a guy like Napoleon and get rid of the people rule altogether. Had Napoleon succeeded in his wars, who knows what would have happened? Even here, Washington had a chance to be dictator and essentially turned it down in favor the ideals the Constitution was favoring. The right amount of terror or uncertainty can lead people to hang onto anything certain. A dictatorship is that, even if the cost is high.

Bush scares me as a focus for a certain way of thinking that may or may not be his fault. 9/11 unified us, but perhaps a bit too much. The hatred toward foreigners that occurred for a couple of years after that was pretty scary. The W stickers are still scary (I keep thinking they are upside down!). To criticize the President was, for a time, akin to treason for many Americans. A second event could make that far worse.

I don’t find the president scary. I remember he recently said that he’s kept awake at night by the fear of another attack on the United States.

And you remember what Yoda said about fear.

WASHINGTON (March 16) - Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor have been the targets of death threats from the “irrational fringe” of society, people apparently spurred by Republican criticism of the high court.

Ginsburg revealed in a speech in South Africa last month that she and O’Connor were threatened a year ago by someone who called on the Internet for the immediate “patriotic” killing of the justices.

Security concerns among judges have been growing.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter joked earlier this year that Justice John Paul Stevens should be poisoned. Over the past few months O’Connor has complained that criticism, mainly by Republicans, has threatened judicial independence to deal with difficult issues like gay marriage.

Worry is not limited to the Supreme Court. Three quarters of the nation’s 2,200 federal judges have asked for government-paid home security systems, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said this week.

Ginsburg said the Web threat was apparently prompted by legislation in Congress, filed by Republicans, that would bar judges from relying on foreign laws or court decisions.

“It is disquieting that they have attracted sizable support. And one not-so-small concern - they fuel the irrational fringe,” she said in a speech posted online by the court earlier this month and first reported Wednesday by

According to Ginsburg, someone in a Web site chat room wrote: “Okay commandoes, here is your first patriotic assignment … an easy one. Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and O’Connor have publicly stated that they use (foreign) laws and rulings to decide how to rule on American cases. This is a huge threat to our Republic and Constitutional freedom. … If you are what you say you are, and NOT armchair patriots, then those two justices will not live another week.”

Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., a sponsor of one of the congressional proposals, wrote about the legislation on his Web site and in bold letters featured a quote from O’Connor predicting the Supreme Court would probably increasingly rely on foreign courts.

Ginsburg pointed out that the legislation was first proposed in 2004, an election year.

Justices, in some of their most hotly contested rulings, have looked overseas. Last year, for example, justices barred the executions of juvenile killers on a 5-4 vote. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said then that “it is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty.”

In an angry dissent to that decision, Justice Antonin Scalia said capital punishment policy should be set by states, not “the subjective views of five members of this court and like-minded foreigners.”

Ginsburg said, “Critics in Congress and in the media misperceive how and why U.S. courts refer to foreign and international court decisions.” She said those decisions are used for guidance only.

O’Connor said last week during a speech at Georgetown Law School that the justices have received threats. But the Ginsburg remarks at the Constitutional Court of South Africa provide unusual detail.

Ginsburg, who turned 73 Wednesday, told the audience O’Connor “remains alive and well - as for me, you can judge for yourself.”

If somebody is making death threats against supreme court justices on internet chat forums, you’d think the FBI would take an interest. I mean, it’s pretty hard to be anonymous on the net when the Feds figure out who your ISP is, wiretap you, and optionally start keyboard sniffing you.

Might be a better use of time than infiltrating peaceniks. :-/

Why? Clearly the real culprit is Rep. Feeney.

It’s shameful that judges have to fear for their lives mostly because of throwaway comments from conservatives. The side that is supposed to be the most responsible ends up being the most irresponsible.

I agree that the behavior of Feeney is deplorable, but I don’t think it’s quite on the level of a death threat.