My travels have kept me behind the times a bit but a friend brought to my attention that former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor commented recently on South Dakota’s Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (J.A.I.L.). The following is from a Q&A in USA Today last week:
Q: The issue of judicial independence has been much in the news. How serious a threat is such “court bashing” in the country today?A: It’s very serious. There were “Impeach Earl Warren” signs in the western United States when he was chief justice, but it never amounted to anything truly threatening. But the concerns today are not only at the national but at state levels. Have you watched what’s happening in a proposal in South Dakota? They’re looking to remove all judicial immunity from judges for their judicial decision-making and want to subject them to civil and criminal lawsuits for their actions on the bench. The sponsors want to take it elsewhere.
Q: What might be the effect of such a proposal?
A: That would be a remarkable change in direction from what the framers of our Constitution intended. They went to enormous effort to set up three separate branches of government —— each with power to affect the other two but providing for independence of each of the branches, in effect letting them do their jobs.
J.A.I.L.ers contend they are trying to create a check on the judiciary because the other branches of government have failed to do so. In truth, they are trying to create a special grand jury” to act as a fourth branch of government with absolutely no checks on it whatsoever.
Undoubtedly, J.A.I.L.ers will reject O’Connor’s statements because she was a judge. That’s exactly what they did when former South Dakota Supreme Court Justice George Wuest spoke out against J.A.I.L. last fall. I recently heard one J.A.I.L.er comment on Justice Wuest’s death in March as justice being served. I guess you say such things when you despise a branch of government and the people in it
Statutes and constitutions do not protect judicial independence — people do.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, March 10, 2006