United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor refuses to go gently into the night. Late last week, while her political friends were rallying around her heir apparent, she said something as important as anything she had said while sitting on the High Court for nearly a quarter of a century. She loudly and passionately called out the Republican leadership in Congress for its cynical, sinister, and relentless assault upon the independence of the federal judiciary.
In some of the frankest tones you will ever hear from a sitting Justice, O'Connor, the Reagan appointee, gray-haired grandmother, and symbol of middle-American courtliness, blasted the very people on Capitol Hill who are cheering the loudest these days for John G. Roberts, Jr., the man who will almost certainly take over her consistently conservative vote from the bench on the first Monday in October. Speaking in Spokane, Wash., to a group of lawyers and judges, O'Connor warned that "the present climate is such that I worry about the future of the federal judiciary ... In our country today, we're seeing efforts to prevent an independent judiciary."
Madame Justice is speaking out to you and me while we still are willing to pay attention to her. She is speaking out before her successor is confirmed, speaking out in the hope that this issue will be addressed during the long run-up to the Roberts confirmation hearing. She is speaking out so that one senator, or maybe two, will make the "Have you left no sense of decency, sir?" speech that might serve to end this nonsense once and for all (or at least for the time being). If the issue of the Congressional sabotage of the federal judiciary gets one-tenth of the attention that the issue of abortion rights receives between now and Roberts' first day at the hearing, it will be a pleasant surprise; a horrible shame but a pleasant surprise.
And a pleasant surprise for this conservative would be to see a highly-paid legal expert for a major news agency taking seriously the debate about the scope and power of the federal judiciary. I'm not holding my breath.