Justice Sandra Day O’Connor broke ground three decades ago as the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Now she has broken ground as a retiree for nearly six years, a Washington Post profile suggests.
The article prominently discusses Justice O’Connor’s activism in seeking to persuade states that elect their judges to switch to an appointive system.
In a Post interview, she said her activism has been motivated by her concern that judicial independence is threatened. Part of the reason is inadequate understanding about the role judges play.
“We were getting increasing amounts of criticism as judges: activists; secular, godless humanists trying to impose our will on the rest of the nation,” Justice O’Connor said. In turn, she has engaged in both a public-minded civics campaign and also a political effort to end judicial elections, often notable for soaring campaign contributions. She wrote in a New York Times op-ed:
“When you enter one of these courtrooms, the last thing you want to worry about is whether the judge is more accountable to a campaign contributor or an ideological group than to the law.”
Justice O’Connor has continued to hear cases on federal appellate courts in her retirement. Critics in some quarters have questioned her dual roles as activist and judge.
“My understanding of the canons of judicial ethics is that it’s expressly allowed for judges to take positions on things affecting the operations of the courts,” she told the Post. “Nothing affects them more than how judges are chosen.
“So I read that as being totally allowed — totally,” she added. Legal experts on judicial ethics have generally shared her interpretation of the ethics question that critics have raised. To learn more about Justice O’Connor’s work to replace contested judicial elections with an appointment-and-retention system, see Gavel Grab.