News Intelligence Analysis
[Yurica Report Editor's Note: This is a three article page: "Dictatorship is the Great Danger" by Jonathan Raban and "Former Top Judge Says US Risks Edging Near to Dictatorship" by Julian Bolger follow below.]
Sandra Day O'Connor Criticises Republicans
Who Criticize the Judiciary
March 10, 2006
Speaking at Georgetown University, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor warned against the danger of a potential American dictatorship that begins with intimidation of the judiciary. Citing specific examples, without naming either Tom Delay or Sen. John Cornyn, both Repuplican critics of the courts and both from Texas, she stated their attacks pose "a direct threat to our constituional freedom." Freedom is not possible without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights she said. O'Connor warned against "nakedly partisan reasoning."
O'Connor's remarks were unusually forthright and forceful and were reported by NPR's Nina Totenberg. The former Justice warned that the path to dictatorship must be avoided. She said avoid the ends of dictatorship by avoiding the means." Interference with the judiciary, O'Connor said, was the path taken historically to form a dictatorship in other countries.
To hear Totenberg's report, click on this image:
Then click on "Click to start Real Player" and you're there.
News Intelligence Analysis
Dictatorship is the Danger
A Reagan-appointed supreme court justice voices her fears over attacks on US democracy
Monday March 13, 2006
Linking the words "America" and "dictatorship" is a daily staple of leftwing blogs, which thrive on the idea that Bush administration policies since 9/11 are taking the country ever closer to totalitarian rule. Liberal fears that democracy is endangered by Republicans in Congress are so widespread, so endemic to the jittery political climate in the US, that they hardly bear repeating. It'll surprise no one to learn that another voice was added to the chorus last Thursday, warning that recent attacks on the American judiciary were putting the democratic fabric in jeopardy and were the first steps down the treacherous path to dictatorship.
What is surprising - more than that, electrifying - is that the voice belonged to Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired a few weeks ago from the supreme court. O'Connor is a Republican and a Reagan nominee. Regarded as the "swing vote" on the court, she swung the presidential election to George Bush in 2000.
Equally surprising is that O'Connor's speech to an audience of lawyers at Georgetown University was attended by just one reporter, the diligent legal correspondent for National Public Radio, Nina Totenberg. No transcript or recording of the speech has been made available, so we have only Totenberg's notes to go on. But - assuming they are accurate - the notes are political dynamite.
O'Connor's voice was "dripping with sarcasm", according to Totenberg, as she "took aim at former House GOP [Republican] 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 rulings on abortions, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case.
"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."
Then she spoke the D-word. "I, said O'Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former 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."
Delivered by someone who was, until recently, one of the nine guardians of the US constitution, these are spine-chilling opinions, and you might have thought they'd have been all over the papers the next day. Not so. I happened to catch Totenberg's NPR report last Friday, and have been following up references to it. A cable TV talkshow and a handful of blogs have mentioned Totenberg's piece: otherwise there's been a disquieting silence, as if the former justice had laid an unsavoury egg and had best be politely ignored.
Why did O'Connor choose such a closed forum to air her thoughts? Why was Totenberg the only reporter present? The possibility that America is sliding toward dictatorship or an unprecedented form of corporate oligarchy ought to be a matter of world concern. And if O'Connor believes what she is reported to have said, surely she owes it to the world to make public the prepared text of her remarks, which so far have the dubious character of the scores of unverifiable leaks that have passed for news in the compulsively secretive world of the Bush administration. It's unsurprising that, say, Colin Powell chooses to leak rather than speak out, but when a supreme court justice prefers to whisper her fears to a coterie audience, it's hard to avoid the inference that the whisper itself speaks volumes about the imperilled democracy it purports to describe.
Death threats to judges figured importantly in O'Connor's speech, with good reason. Last year, an Illinois federal judge found her husband and mother murdered, and a Georgia state judge was shot dead in his courtroom. Within days, Senator John Cornyn of Texas mused: "I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence." DeLay, speaking of the judges who had ruled that Schiavo be allowed to die, said: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour."
These are peculiar times, and when Republican politicians appear to endorse the killing of judges who make rulings of which they disapprove, it's maybe understandable that a distinguished judge like Sandra Day O'Connor, expressing views calculated to enrage Republican politicians, might sensibly look to a small podium with a weak sound system for fear of being heard too clearly by the likes of Cornyn and DeLay.
· Jonathan Raban's latest book is My Holy War: dispatches from the home front. Nina Totenberg's report is at: http://tinyurl.com/lt5ls
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
News Intelligence Analysis
Former Top Judge Says US Risks Edging Near to Dictatorship
· Sandra Day O'Connor warns of rightwing attacks
· Lawyers 'must speak up' to protect judiciary
Julian Borger in Washington
Monday March 13, 2006
From the Guardian
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 rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary.
In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University, reported by National Public Radio and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Ms O'Connor took aim at Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could, she said, 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 to an audience of corporate lawyers on Thursday, Ms O'Connor singled out a warning to the judiciary issued 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, 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 Schiavo case, and called for more scrutiny of "an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president".
Such threats, Ms O'Connor said, "pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedom", and she told the lawyers in her audience: "I want you to tune your ears to these attacks ... You have an obligation to speak up.
"Statutes and constitutions do not protect judicial independence - people do," the retired supreme court justice said.
She noted death threats against judges were on the rise and added that the situation was not helped by a senior senator's suggestion that there might be a connection between the violence against judges and the decisions they make.
The senator she was referring to was John Cornyn, a Bush loyalist from Texas, who made his remarks last April, soon after a judge was shot dead in an Atlanta courtroom and the family of a federal judge was murdered in Illinois.
Senator Cornyn said: "I don't know if there is a cause and effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country ... And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence."
Although appointed by a Republican, Ms O'Connor voted with the supreme court's liberals on some divisive issues, including abortion, making her a frequent target for criticism from the right. After announcing that she intended to retire last year at the age of 75, she was replaced in February this year by Samuel Alito, who is generally regarded as being more consistently conservative.
In her speech, Ms O'Connor said that if the courts did not occasionally make politicians mad they would not be doing their jobs, and their effectiveness "is premised on the notion that we won't be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts".
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Monday March 20 2006
In the article below, we referred to a US court decision to order Terri Schiavo to be removed from life support, describing her in our account as "brain dead". Relatives of Terri Schiavo point out that although she was severely brain damaged there was no diagnosis of "brain dead" and neither was that the conclusion of the post-mortem examination.
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Congress Assaults the Courts, Again
The House of Representatives took a little- noticed
but dangerous swipe at the power of the courts this
week. It passed an amendment to a budget bill that
would bar money from being spent to enforce a federal
court ruling regarding the Ten Commandments. The
vote threatens the judiciary's long-acknowledged
position as the final arbiter of the Constitution. It is
important that this amendment be removed before
the bill becomes law.
Court Gutting in Congress
Congress is quietly considering whether to
destroy one of the pillars of constitutional law:
the habeas corpus power of the federal courts
to determine whether an indigent defendant has
been unjustly sentenced to death in state courts.
On the 'Nuclear' Brink
The judicial nominations debate reached a new low
this week when a Republican senator compared his
Democratic colleagues to Hitler. This rampage by the
Republican majority, driven by a zeal to eliminate the
Democrats' voice in the appointment of judges, poses
a real danger of permanently damaging the system of
checks and balances at the heart of American democracy.
Dominionist Bill Limits the Supreme
The Constitution Restoration Act
of 2004 and Now 2005
by Katherine Yurica
You read it here first. The Yurica Report published
articles revealing the intentions of Dominionists to
revamp the American Federal Court system. The first
major attempt has been placed before both houses
of Congress in two nearly identical bills. Drafted by
Herb Titus, the first Dean of Pat Robertson's School
of Public Policy and a known Dominionist, our
question is: What is actually intended by the
Constitution Restoration Act of 2004? If the bill
passes, the Supreme Court will be placed under the
Dominionists' thumb. (Updated February 28, 2004 with
an editor's note and August 8, 2004.)
DeLay Says Federal Judiciary Has
Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority
leader, escalated his talk of a battle between the
legislative and judicial branches of government on
Thursday, saying federal courts had "run amok,"
in large part because of the failure of Congress
to confront them.
Democrats Make the Case Congressional
Repubicans Are Drunk With Power
By ROBIN TONER and CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, April 10 - Newt Gingrich, the
conservative firebrand who won control of Congress a
decade ago by campaigning against an entrenched,
arrogant and all-powerful Democratic majority, is once
again an inspirational figure on Capitol Hill. This time,
his message is being carried by the Democrats.The
party's leaders are increasingly making the case that
in 2005, it is Congressional Republicans who are drunk
with power, overreaching on issues like Social Security
and judicial nominations, ethically challenged, and
profoundly out of touch with their constituents.
Majority Leader Asks House Panel to
Deflecting all questions about his ethical conduct
and political future, Representative Tom DeLay,
the House majority leader, on Wednesday stepped
up his crusade against judges, announcing that he
had instructed the Judiciary Committee to investigate
federal court decisions in the Terri Schiavo case and
to recommend possible legislation.
The Judges Made Them Do It
It was appalling when the House majority leader
threatened political retribution against judges who
did not toe his extremist political line. But when a
second important Republican stands up and excuses
murderous violence against judges as an understandable
reaction to their decisions, then it is time to get
Congressman Conyers rips Senator Cornyn for
justifying violence against judges
During the protracted coverage and debate of the Schiavo
matter, I was struck by the disrespectful and reckless
language being used against judges. One by one, my
Republican colleagues took the House floor to attack
judges as "unconscionable," lacking "human compassion,"
needing to be held in "contempt," and having "answering
to do." I remember thinking that such dehumanizing
rhetoric is especially dangerous in these times towards
anyone, let alone judges. Outside the halls of Congress,
words flew even more recklessly and the House Majority
Leader Tom DeLay called the removal of Schiavo's feeding
tube an "act of medical terrorism." The Reverend Pat
Robertson called it "judicial murder." I remember thinking
about Judge Rowland Barnes of Georgia, who less than
a month ago, was shot to death by an angry litigant in
his courtroom, along with two other court employees.
I remember thinking that irresponsible words can lead
to tragic results.
Bill Frist's Religious War
Right-wing Christian groups and the Republican
politicians they bankroll have done much since
the last election to impose their particular religious
views on all Americans. But nothing comes close
to the shameful declaration of religious war by Bill
Frist, the Senate majority leader, over the selection
of judges for federal courts. Senator Frist is to appear
on a telecast sponsored by the Family Research
Council, which styles itself a religious organization
but is really just another Washington lobbying
concern. The message is that the Democrats who
oppose a tiny handful of President Bush's judicial
nominations are conducting an assault "against
people of faith." By that, Senator Frist and his allies
do not mean people of all faiths, only those
of their faith.
In Courts, Threats Become Alarming
Fact of Life
By DEBORAH SONTAG
Last March, a federal prosecutor in Utah overseeing
a racketeering case against a dozen members of the
Soldiers of Aryan Culture received a chilling threat.
"You stupid bitch!" the letter to the assistant United
States attorney, who is an African-American woman,
began. "It is because of you that my brothers are in jail."
The letter went on to mention the prosecutor's home
address, concluding, "We will get you." It was signed,
"Till the casket drops."
Attacking a Free Judiciary
The low point in the politicking over Terri Schiavo
came last week when the House majority leader,
Tom DeLay, threatened the judges who ruled in her
case. Saying they had "thumbed their nose at
Congress and the president," Mr. DeLay announced
that "the time will come for the men responsible for
this to answer for their behavior, but not today." Coming
so close to the fatal shooting of one judge in his
courtroom and the killing of two family members of
another, those words were at best an appalling example
of irresponsibility in pursuit of political gain. But they
were not an angry, off-the-cuff reaction. Mr. DeLay's
ominous statements were a calculated part of a
growing assault on the judiciary.
Frist Set to Use Religious Stage on
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON, April 14 - As the Senate heads
toward a showdown over the rules governing
judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the
majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of
prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast
portraying Democrats as "against people of faith"
for blocking President Bush's nominees.
House Republicans Move to Protect
November 17, 2004
By CARL HULSE and DAVID E. ROSENBAUM
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 - Fresh from election gains,
House Republicans moved Tuesday to consider a
change in party rules that would prevent their majority
leader, Tom DeLay, from having to step down from his
leadership position should he be indicted in an
investigation in Texas.
Evangelicals Want to Strip Courts' Funds
Taped at a private conference, the leaders outline
ways to punish jurists they oppose.
By Peter Wallsten
Times Staff Writer April 22, 2005
WASHINGTON Evangelical Christian leaders, who
have been working closely with senior Republican
lawmakers to place conservative judges in the federal
courts, have also been exploring ways to punish sitting
jurists and even entire courts viewed as hostile to
Republican Forced Exclusion of
Democrats from legislative participation
violates House and Senate tradition and places
an ominous threat over the democratic process
as it disenfranchises fifty percent of Americans
from representative government. Read the facts
from the congressional editor of the Washington
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