Over the last couple of years a highly orchestrated campaign to harm the independence of the judicial branch of government has been waged by the Religious Right and their allies in the Republican Party. Their call for courts to be shut down because of opposition on the Right to judicial rulings, for example, has been compared by the editor of The Christian Century to the political maneuvering of the fascists who seized control of Germany in the 1930s.
This week we got a glimpse at what at least two members of the US Supreme Court feel the impact of all the politics swirling around their profession has been (and could be):
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, as noted earlier this week, recently called the activities of former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his cohorts in Congress a threat to democracy. DeLay, a Texas Republican under criminal indictment but beloved by the Religious Right, has threatened judges with retribution for not following his political agenda (whether his threat of retribution included a threat of violence is a matter of great concern). O'Connor was appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan.
On Friday, The Washington Post reported that O'Connor was not alone in her views:
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg assailed the court's congressional critics in a recent speech overseas, saying their efforts "fuel" an "irrational fringe" that threatened her life and that of a colleague, former justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Addressing an audience at the Constitutional Court of South Africa on Feb. 7, the 73-year-old justice, known as one of the court's more liberal members, criticized various Republican-proposed House and Senate measures that either decry or would bar the citation of foreign law in the Supreme Court's constitutional rulings. Conservatives often see the citing of foreign laws in court rulings as an affront to American sovereignty, adding to a list of grievances they have against judges that include rulings supporting abortion rights or gay rights.
Though the proposals do not seem headed for passage, Ginsburg said, "it is disquieting that they have attracted sizeable support. And one not-so-small concern -- they fuel the irrational fringe."
She then quoted from what she said was a "personal example" of this: a Feb. 28, 2005, posting in an Internet chat room that called on unnamed "commandoes" to ensure that she and O'Connor "will not live another week...."
In her speech, Ginsburg said that the Internet posting was brought to her attention by Supreme Court Marshal Pamela Talkin, who is responsible for court security.
According to Ginsburg, the posting said: "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 these two justices will not live another week."
America is truly in a political battle between those who support Constitutional democracy and the rule of law and those who are willing to abandon the Constitution in favor of a theocracy led by the Religious Right. The law and the voters must hold them accountable for their words and deeds.