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Sandra Day O'Connor warns of rightwing attacks says US risks edging near to dictatorship

Guardian
Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican-appointed judge who retired last month after 24 years on the supreme court, has said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary. In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University, reported by National Public Radio and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Ms O'Connor took aim at Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias.

Ms O'Connor, nominated by Ronald Reagan as the first woman supreme court justice, declared: "We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary." She pointed to autocracies in the developing world and former Communist countries as lessons on where interference with the judiciary might lead. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

Ms O'Connor singled out a warning to the judiciary issued last year by Tom DeLay, the former Republican leader in the House of Representatives, over a court ruling in a controversial "right to die" case. After the decision last March that ordered a brain-dead woman in Florida, Terri Schiavo, removed from life support, Mr DeLay said: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour." Mr DeLay later called for the impeachment of judges involved in the Schiavo case, and called for more scrutiny of "an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president".

Such threats, Ms O'Connor said, "pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedom", and she told the lawyers in her audience: "I want you to tune your ears to these attacks ... You have an obligation to speak up.
"Statutes and constitutions do not protect judicial independence - people do," the retired supreme court justice said.

Although appointed by a Republican, Ms O'Connor voted with the supreme court's liberals on some divisive issues, including abortion, making her a frequent target for criticism from the right. After announcing that she intended to retire last year at the age of 75, she was replaced in February this year by Samuel Alito, who is generally regarded as being more consistently conservative.

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