Sandra Day O'Connor - Say No to JAIL's judicial intimidation

In an article in one of this week's editions of the Wall Street Journal, retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor takes after South Dakota's JAIL amendment.
Wall Street Journal
September 27, 2006

The Threat to Judicial Independence
By Sandra Day O'Connor

In November, South Dakotans will vote on a state constitutional amendment being advocated by a national group called "JAIL 4 Judges." If the amendment passes, it would eliminate judicial immunity, and enable a special grand jury to censure judges for their official legal determinations. Although the amendment's supporters claim they seek a "judicial accountability initiative law" (JAIL), they aspire to something far more sinister --judicial intimidation. Indeed, the national Web site of JAIL 4 Judges boasts with striking candor that the organization "has that intimidation factor flowing through the judicial system."

It is tempting to dismiss this proposed amendment as merely an isolated bout of anti-judge angst. But while the JAIL 4 Judges initiative is unusually venomous, it is far from alone in expressing skepticism of the judiciary. In addition to South Dakota, this election cycle has witnessed efforts in at least three other states that are designed to rein in judges who have supposedly "run amok."


An independent judiciary does not mean, of course, that it is somehow improper to criticize judicial decisions. To the contrary, it is a healthy sign for democracy that the public is engaged with the workings of the judicial system. Judges can --and do-- sometimes render erroneous decisions, but that is why appeals are allowed to higher courts. Moreover, judges can be --and are-- subjected to discipline for legitimate reasons. Members of the judiciary cannot sincerely believe that they should be regarded as above the very laws that they are charged with interpreting. Ours is, after all, a nation of laws, not men --or even women.

Nonetheless, we must be more vigilant in making sure that criticism does not cross over into intimidation. Judges and lawyers certainly play essential roles in opposing attacks on the judiciary. Indeed, later this week, I --along with Justice Stephen Breyer-- am co-chairing a conference on judicial independence at Georgetown University Law Center. But the legal community needs help from other sectors of society to ensure that the current mood of cynicism does not end up compromising the rule of law. This includes members of the business community. Adam Smith, writing in "The Wealth of Nations," well understood the importance of an independent judiciary: "[U]pon the impartial administration of justice depends the liberty of every individual, the sense which he has of his own security." Without judicial independence, Smith warned, "it is scarce[ly] possible that justice should not frequently be sacrificed to what is vulgarly called politics."

More broadly, of course, all of society has a keen interest in countering threats to judicial independence. Judges who are afraid --whether thy fear for their jobs or fear for their lives-- cannot adequately fulfill the considerable responsibilities that the position demands. In these challenging and difficult times, we must recommit ourselves to maintaining the independent judiciary that the Framers sought to establish.
I couldn't have said it better myself. JAIL has nothing to do with justice or "keeping judges honest." It's anti-government paranoia and judicial thuggery poorly masquerading itself as reform.

Predictably, the South Dakota Amendment E crew weighed in on this issue, as nobody likes having their butt kicked by a US Supreme Court Justice. Even a retired one:
Both USA Today and The Wall Street Journal published attacks on Amendment E by former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Although media has been repeatedly advised the ever clownish Mr. Branson has nothing to do with Amendment E; apparently when it comes to accountability, as it hasn't in the case of Amendment E, colorful cartoon characters trump facts, every time. Neither publication referred to Amendment E. Instead, both chose to refer to Mr. Branson's email club. That said media distortion is especially blurred in televsion. It's not news, folks. It's entertainment. Mr. Branson is entertaining, one reason why South Dakotans have nothing to do with him.
Gee, thanks. I'm glad Ron's fellow clownish Californian, Bonnie Russell, knows exactly what South Dakotans want. And equally as predictable, Bonnie plugged her website where she's making money off of the judicial paranoia she's helping to propogate:
The good news is Court transcripts demonstrating judges ignoring the law received by were from attorneys. Attorneys who believe change is long overdue. No transcript were received from the wimpy batch of South Dakotans who call themselves attorneys. Reflecting badly on the State Bar, only one attorney had the right equipment to stand up for Bill Stegmeier and the public's best interests.
You know, speaking of the website and Bonnie Russell, I did make an informal and initial inquiry with a staff member at the Secretary of State's office which I may follow up more formally on.

If you look at the Secretary of State's website information on the Amendment E campaign, aside from their report still containing somewhat inadequate information in places, it mentions nothing about expenditures or even in-kind donations with regards to Bonnie and the "South Dakotan's for Amendment E" portion of the campaign.

In fact, if you look at it the website, they don't even link to Which certainly leads one to believe that these are being run as separate campaigns.

And if they are separate campaigns, where's the filing from "South Dakotan's for Amendment E?" Getting the "South Dakota Judicial Accountability" filing was like pulling teeth (and it's still missing information) - I can't imagine what Bonnie's filing would look like.

So, I throw down the gauntlet to Bill Stegmeier - "What IS the relationship of Bonnie Russell and her South Dakotan's for Amendment E to the South Dakota Judicial Accountability campaign?" Because it seems she's running a separate entity but filing none of the required paperwork.

(And don't forget that on November 7th, we need to vote NO on Amendment E.)


Anonymous said…
Sandra Day O'Connor is eminently well-respected. The anti-JAIL campaign should ask her to do a television commercial.
Joan said…
Does anyone know if the counties that are not on the list as opposing Amendment E are missing because they back it or because they haven't considered taking a stand on it?

An opinion from a retired Supreme Court justice carries a lot of weight and should be publicized as much as possible. At the very least, people who oppose it should make certain that O'Connor's statement is included in letters to the editor in every SD county and preferably every SD town that has a newspaper.
Anonymous said…
Sandra Day O'Connor is not just a Supreme Court Justice - she is also one of the most well-known justices in the history of the Court.

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