Sandra Day O’Connor

WASHINGTON – Recently retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor yesterday blasted Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, for calling for judicial accountability and impeachment of judges during the heat of the Terri Schiavo case.

“I want you to tune your ears to these attacks,” O’Connor told a conference of corporate attorneys at the Georgetown University Law Center. “You have an obligation to speak up.”

While not mentioning DeLay by name, O’Connor spoke of a congressman who said he would examine the possibility of impeaching federal judges who sided with Michael Schiavo, the estranged husband of the brain-injured Florida woman who was dehydrated to death by court order.

DeLay, then the House Republican leader, said last March he would look at the possibility of removing the judges who refused to block the court-ordered death urged by her husband who recently remarried.

O’Connor cited two deadly attacks last year in Chicago and Atlanta as violence that may have been prompted by the calls for judicial accountability.

In February 2005, the husband and mother of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow were killed by out-of-work electrician Bart Ross, who had a lawsuit dismissed by the judge. He admitted to killing Chicago lawyer Michael Francis Lefkow and Donna Humphrey in a note he left before killing himself last March.

In the other case, Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau and sheriff’s deputy Hoyt Teasley were shot last March in a courthouse allegedly by Brian Nichols, who was on trial for rape.

“Statutes and constitutions do not protect judicial independence – people do.” O’Connor told lawyers at Georgetown’s Corporate Counsel Institute. “We must be ever vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary.”

She added that there is “no natural constituency for supporting judicial independence.” Therefore, lawyers and others must foster “a culture in which such threats [to independence] are frowned on,” the former justice said.

O’Connor stepped down Jan. 31 after more than 24 years on the high court.

She also pointed out that the late Justice Harry A. Blackmun regularly received death threats following his 1973 majority opinion in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion.

O’Connor said politicians should not demand that a judge, under threat of impeachment, issue rulings that meet their “nakedly partisan, result-oriented reasoning.”

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